From the Department of What-Fresh-Hell-Is-This, a mailing arrived at NN.C Central yesterday.
“Natural gas prices have dropped. Lock in your rate now!” it exhorted. Inside, it encourages me to buy a…truckload? room full? bunch? of natural gas for the low low price of $1.098 per ccf. I hve no idea what a ccf is, but I assume it’s a recognized measurement of natural gas. “Interstate Gas Supply Inc. is now offering a guaranteed fixed rate of $1.098 per ccf for the commodity portion of your gas bill plus DTE/Michigan Consolidated Gas Company (MichCon) deliver charges and applicable taxes, through your December 2007 billing period,” I’m told. It goes on to say I’ll soon be paying $1.215 per ccf, and it may change based on market prices, and wouldn’t it be nice to have the peace of mind that comes with knowing I’ll be paying $1.098 through December 2007? Wouldn’t it?
Everything I know about natural gas I learned in school (it comes from the same wells as oil) and by editing business copy (utilities buy a lot of it in July, when it’s cheap, to sell in January, when it’s not). And that’s…about it. I don’t know how $1.098 stacks up, pricewise, over the long term — maybe if I wait until July, I’ll get a better offer. I don’t know what the “commodity portion” of my gas bill is, and investigation of my statements online offer no hints. What about that delivery charge? Seems like a pretty handy catch-all. How do I accept delivery of my gas? Does it arrive via pipeline? Is this like renting space in a grain elevator?
And then the terrible truth dawns: That thanks to such article-of-faith American values as “competition” and “the free market,” I will not only have to be the prime mover in selecting my household’s groceries, clothing, laundry detergent, coffee and the rest of it, I now have to keep an eye on the natural-gas market. I have to shop for heat.
And you thought choosing a long-distance service was bad.
All I can say is, if I’m going to trade commodities, I want a seat on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, complete with a loud jacket and hand signals.
Have you done this? What’s your advice? Or, to put it P.J. O’Rourke style, “What the f**k? I mean, what the f**king f**k?”