Gov't says colder weather will boost winter heating bills

By David Koenig, AP Business Writer


Expect to pay more to heat your home this winter than you spent last year.

In this Jan. 7, 2014, file photo, Denver Walker, of Somerset Fuels, makes a heating oil delivery to a home in Jenner Crossroads, Pa. On Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016, the Energy Department said that household bills from October through March are likely to be higher for all four main heating fuels: natural gas, electricity, heating oil and propane. (John Rucosky/The Tribune-Democrat via AP, File)

Expect to pay more to heat your home this winter than you spent last year.

That's the message from government analysts who sifted through forecasts for a colder winter and slightly higher energy prices.

The Energy Department said Thursday that household bills from October through March are likely to be higher for all four main heating fuels — natural gas, electricity, heating oil, and propane.

Last winter, relatively warm temperatures reduced nationwide demand for heating fuels to the lowest level in at least 25 years. For most regions outside the West, this winter is expected to be colder than last but still milder than many recent ones, according to forecasters with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

As a result, the Energy Department said, consumers who use natural gas or heating oil will spend more on heating than they did in winter 2015-2016 but about the same or less than they paid during the previous five winters.

Here's the forecast for average household heating bills:

— Natural gas: up $116, or 22 percent, to $635 nationally but $889 in the Northeast. That assumes that the weather forecast is correct. If winter is colder, the increase will be closer to one-third.

Nearly half of all American homes are heated with natural gas. The price of gas is expected to rise a modest 11 percent over last winter, but still that would be the highest average winter price in six years.

Pipeline bottlenecks have slowed the delivery of gas to the Northeast in past years. The energy agency said that more gas from Pennsylvania will be available for New Englanders this winter due to a new pipeline expected to open next month.

— Heating oil: up $378, or 38% percent, to an average $1,370.

Only 5 percent of U.S. homes use heating oil, but it warms nearly one-fourth of homes in the Northeast. The bad news for them: The retail price is up by 42 cents per gallon, or 20 percent, since last winter because of higher crude prices. And if the weather forecast is right, Northeast residents will burn more oil.

— Electricity: up $49, or 5 percent, to $945 due to higher consumption. Rates are expected to be flat.

Nearly 40 percent of U.S. households heat with electricity including more than 60 percent in the South. In New England, more power is now generated with natural gas, making heating with electricity competitive with simply burning the gas to stay warm.

— Propane: Lower than most years, but higher than last winter, when temperatures were mild and prices low.

In the Northeast, the forecast calls for an average increase of $346, or 21 percent, to $1,991; in the Midwest, it's $290 more, or 30 percent, to $1,272.

— Wood and wood pellets: used to heat about 2.5 million U.S. homes including one-fifth of rural households in New England.

The energy agency didn't offer a forecast for spending, which varies with local prices.



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