Higher heating bills possible this winter
A cold winter is coming, and the government says that means heating costs are going to rise -- at least a little. A new report by the federal Energy Information Agency shows natural gas heating bills could rise nationally 22 percent compared to l...
A cold winter is coming, and the government says that means heating costs are going to rise - at least a little.
A new report by the federal Energy Information Agency shows natural gas heating bills could rise nationally 22 percent compared to last year, with electric heating costs up 5 percent.
Much of that rise is based on a warmer-than-average winter last year. But if it's even 10 percent colder than anticipated between October and March, natural gas costs could be up 31 percent and electric up 9 percent compared with last year, the report said.
Still, the EIA wrote, "Forecast average expenditures of households heating with natural gas this winter will be comparable to those in the five winters prior to last winter," showing again how much of an outlier last year was.
About 26,000 households in Duluth use natural gas to heat their homes, more than the average of all Midwestern homes. But local officials expect the rising costs to be less dramatic than the federal report might make it seem.
"I don't see us being in for a double-digit rise for gas - maybe a single-digit rise," said Pete Upton, the city's chief gas controller. "I don't see it going through the roof unless we have one of those crazy winters we had a few years ago."
Upton added that the city bought about a third of its supply of gas during low summer prices, which will help temper the effects of higher demand pushing up prices during an expected cold winter.
"Every forecast we've seen shows that it's going to be a much more typical winter," he said.
And typical, as the Northland well knows, means frigid.
"We did have a mild winter last year, and so if we have even a normal winter I think that's where folks could see their energy costs rise," said Amy Rutledge, spokeswoman for Minnesota Power.
Those that may need assistance with rising power bills need to contact the utility in order to be covered by the state's cold-weather rule, which went into effect Saturday and protects from unlawful power shutoffs through April 15.
"To be protected by that, customers need to set up a payment plan to avoid disconnection," Rutledge said.
There is also assistance available from area nonprofits and through Minnesota Power's CARE program, which offers income-based discounts.
Both the city and Minnesota Power offer payment plans that spread high winter costs throughout the year on a fixed payment plan.
Even with a colder winter, residents have the power to keep their power bills down. Beyond blanket burrowing and sweater layering, there are many ways to improve the heat efficiency of a home.
"This time of year it's time to look at your home and say, 'Is it ready for winter, and how can I get it ready for winter?' " Rutledge said.
Minnesota Power offers a free home energy analysis, and Rutledge ticked through a list of the more obvious things people can be proactive and improve:
- Properly sealed windows and doors
- Clean furnace filter
- Hot water set to 120 degrees
- Keeping blinds and curtains open during the day and closed at night
- Clean refrigerator coils
- Efficient lighting
For more about energy efficiency or payment plans, go online to mnpower.com or comfortsystemsduluth.com , or contact Minnesota Power at (218) 722-2625 or the city's natural gas service at (218) 730-4050.