West Virginia utility customers are paying less for utilities this year than in 2012, according to a new report from the state Public Service Commission's Consumer Advocate Division.
Residential utility customers across the state saw their average monthly payments drop last year by $15.59, according to the Consumer Advocate Division's latest annual report on residential utility rates.
According to the report, an average utility ratepayer in West Virginia paid $292.81 each month for electricity, gas, water, and telephone service in January 2012.
That same customer is now paying $277.22 - a decline of 5.3 percent.
But the decline was driven by one commodity: natural gas.
While average water, power and telephone rates stayed flat in 2012, the state's five major gas companies saw their rates decline by 10 to 16 percent.
The good news for those who heat their homes with natural gas is that the trend is expected to continue.
"For natural gas, the future looks pretty good," Consumer Advocate Division Director Byron Harris said. "By all accounts we have an enormous resource that's being tapped relatively cheaply compared to historic prices."
That stable future will be important for West Virginia consumers because declining gas rates have helped offset some sharp increases in water and power rates.
Since 2008, West Virginia's average electricity rates jumped 38.4 percent, and water rates increased 35.5 percent.
Meanwhile, natural gas rates have dropped 41 percent since their peak in 2009.
Also helping in 2012 was the fact that it was the first time in five years that overall power rates did not increase.
But Harris said consumers shouldn't get used to that.
"The fact that from January of last year to January this year rates declined or didn't go up, that's a great thing," Harris said. "But I fear it's just a pause.
"For 2013, we have some very large cases that are going to impact rates," he said.