Nova Scotia is leading a region-wide study looking for ways to get more natural gas into the Maritimes, but some of the costs could be passed on to consumers.
Even after seeing her natural gas bill double this month, Sue Marsh of Dartmouth says she doesn’t regret converting from oil.
"From $4,000 a year for heat and hot water back five years ago was what I was paying with oil. Now I’m paying $1,500 a year at most,” she said.
But extreme cold weather across North America has increased the demand and prices. This is the second year prices have spiked and suppliers are questioning how long natural gas can maintain its edge.
Dalhousie University in Halifax said it now spends $7 million on natural gas, up from $4 million three years ago.
Dalhousie is still saving millions with natural gas, but the university says it's acutely aware of the supply crunch which is expected to worsen as the offshore supply dwindles.
To smooth out the volatility, Heritage Gas wants to use an underground gas storage facility in Stewiacke.
“Storage allows you to buy gas in the summer when it’s typically less expensive,” said president Bill Swan. "Store it in the ground and pull it out for consumption in the winter."
The provincial distributor said it wants permission from the Utility and Review Board to pass some of the storage costs onto what it charges customers.
On Friday the province's Liberal government issued a tender to study forming a regional buyers group for utilities and users.
The goal is to get infrastructure built to bring new natural gas supply in to the region, but that’s several years away.
In the meantime, natural gas customers in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are being warned to expect another wave of increases in February, the fifth increase in the price of natural gas since September.
Natural gas is the most widely-used form of heating on the continent, used in about half of all homes. The second-most common — electricity — is also vulnerable to the price of natural gas because many power plants that generate electricity are gas-powered.