GUC natural gas customers will see their rates increase this winter because of continuing increases in wholesale prices.

Natural gas prices have doubled since October 2020, Greenville Utilities Commission General Manager/CEO Tony Cannon said during the organization’s board of commissioners meeting on Thursday.

Rates have jumped 31 percent since Hurricane Ida shut down production in the Gulf of Mexico last month, he said. It’s unknown when production will resume because Tropical Storm Nicholas struck Texas on Tuesday, he said. Prices in Europe and Asia also remain high.

“It’s really a perfect storm with hurricanes hitting the Gulf and world demand being up and pricing being up,” Cannon said. “We’re starting to see pressure on natural gas and it will ultimately impact the cost to consumers if this doesn’t come down.”

GUC already raised the natural gas rate a few pennies this month and will likely raise it a few pennies more in October, Cannon said.

“That way we are starting to recover these costs so (customers) don’t get hit with a huge increase when they have a huge consumption,” he said. GUC’s natural gas division should have more details on the expected rate jump in October.

Cannon also is concerned about the effect on electric costs since Duke Energy Progress, which supplies GUC’s electricity, has converted a number of its generation plants to natural gas.

Because of GUC’s electric rate stabilization fund, he doesn’t see the utility immediately adjusting its electric rates if Duke’s prices increase.

Greenville City Manager Ann E. Wall, a voting member of the GUC board, recommended launching a communications campaign in October to alert residential natural gas customers that they will be paying more when the winter heating season begins.

Cannon reminded the board that GUC’s natural gas rates are below the medium price across North Carolina.

Wall said while GUC is below the medium, residential customers won’t think about that when they see a significant increase in their bills.

Electric crew returns

A 17-person GUC crew that has been working in Houma, La., rebuilding the electric system for three weeks is returning home this weekend, Electric Systems Director John Worrell said.

“I think they are ready to come home now and we’ll be excited to see them,” Worrell said. “


Houma, located 30 miles from the Louisiana coast, was directly hit by Hurricane Ida. There were reports of 150 mph sustained winds and 170 mph gusts in the town of 35,000, Worrell said

“When crews arrived that Monday they described it as looking like a 50-mile wide tornado had come through and basically devastated that area,” he said.

The crew worked long hours. Because Houma had no electricity or water, the crew had to stay in a city two hours from the community, adding a four-hour commute to a 12-hour work day.

“The first week they sounded great and good and happy to help these people out and get the power back on,” Worrell said. “The second week, they sounded tired. This past week they sounded really tired. They’ve been working hard.”

The crew bonded with Houma residents. Businesses and residents have fed them and washed their clothes, he said.

It’s believed 90 percent of Houma’s electric system will be restored by today, Worrell said.

The crew said they are working in conditions they have never experienced, according to Cannon. The ground is so saturated they don’t have to drill holes to set utility poles. They push them in and then surround the poles with gravel to keep them erect, he said.

Bethel funding

The GUC board unanimously approved a budget amendment that transferred money the Town of Bethel received from the state and GOLDEN Leaf Foundation to fund improvements to the system which was recently taken over by GUC.

The town received $3 million from the state and $424,000 from the foundation. The upgrades include replacing 750 water meters, rehabilitating a groundwater supply well, installing pipes and replacing two of the town’s four pumping stations. And a number of small projects.

Chief Administrative Officer Chris Padgett said GUC is currently completing an engineering review of the project so it can solicit bids to undertake the work.

Awards

GUC’s water treatment plant received an Area Wide Optimization Program Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its work in decreasing byproducts generated during the treatment process.

GUC’s communications office received a gold award and honorable mention from the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals’ Viddy Awards for a video tour of the water and wastewater treatment plant that teachers used during online classes and a video marking the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Floyd.

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570.