VICTOR EPSTEINNEWARK, N.J. (AP) ¿ New Jersey utility regulators approved the largest reduction in natural gas prices in state history Wednesday. The state Board of Public Utilities voted unanimously to share the savings from lower wholesale rates with retail consumers. The lower prices are effective immediately and are expected save the typical household $262 to $477 a year ¿ a reduction of 23 percent to 37 percent. "These are significant rate reductions that will provide immediate relief for customers struggling with the effects of the worldwide economic downturn," said Jeanne Fox, president of the state board that regulates utility rates. The savings come as consumers deal with the most severe U.S. economic contraction since The Great Depression. Demand for coal, natural gas and oil has fallen as factory work has slowed and consumers have grown thrifty. The mild summer and prospect of a warm winter also have played into fuel supply and demand. A typical New Jersey home that uses 1,000 therms of natural gas ¿ a standard measure of heat ¿ paid between $1,671 and $1,743 last year.