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    Between a bizarrely warm winter and the explosion of shale gas developments across the country, natural gas prices have plummeted in the U.S. While not ideal for natural gas producers, USA Today notes that this could prove a major windfall for American homes and businesses that have struggled recently with rising electricity rates.

    Between all these various factors, natural gas prices have fallen 35 percent over the past year even as total usage increased, with a 13 percent drop just last week. Homes that buy natural gas directly for heating see a clear benefit, but many can actually benefit on electricity bills as well, particularly in states that have implemented electricity deregulation.

    In those states, homeowners with variable electricity rates might see savings without needing to do anything, while those with fixed rates will have an opportunity to shop around for electricity providers while prices are lower.

    USA Today reports a study from Navigant Consulting suggests homeowners could save as much as $200 per year between lower electricity rates and heating costs.

    The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that Texas, one of the leading competitive electricity markets, relied on natural gas for roughly half of its electricity in 2009, making the potential savings substantial.