charging more, for using less Peoples stung by usage drop Utility considers a new surcharge By Steve Daniels Peoples Energy Corp., its profits lagging as more Chicagoans conserve, thinks customers should pay more for using less natural gas. The Chicago natural gas utility, which serves about 1 million customers in the city and northern suburbs, blames this year's mild winter and customers' conservation for a decline in gas consumption. Because Peoples sells the gas itself with no markup and makes its profit on delivery charges based on volume, falling consumption squeezes the company's bottom line. Peoples is studying rate systems approved by other states that allow utilities to levy surcharges when gas consumption falls and oblige them to fork over rebates to customers when consumption exceeds expectations, says Desiree Rogers, newly appointed president of Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas, the gas utility units of Chicago-based Peoples Energy. The company will decide by early next year whether to ask Illinois regulators for permission to do the same. "We've got to have some kind of (revenue) floor for the effects of conservation," Ms. Rogers says.