By Jesse Wood
Oct. 9, 2014. With the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecasting a 2014 winter being “much warmer than last winter east of the Rocky Mountains,” the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts American households to spend less money on winter fuel this season, according to the department’s Short Term Energy and Winter Fuels Outlook report released Oct. 7.
The national winter heating season runs from Oct. 1 to March 31.
The EIA is projecting average household expenditures for natural gas, heating oil, electricity and propane to be lower than last year’s winter, which was 11 percent colder than the prior 10-year average across the nation. Remember last year’s “polar vortex” when January 2013 was one of the coldest on record?
Average household expenditures for propane will be 27 percent lower and heating oil 15 percent lower because of lower heating demand and prices.
The savings difference on natural gas and electricity this winter, however, isn’t expected to be as larger because of lower heating demand and higher prices. Natural gas expenditures are expected to be 5 percent less than last winter with electricity costs predicted at 2 percent less.
Heating oil is running 25 cents lower per gallon, or a 6 percent decrease, than last year’s national average. Propane savings vary depending on region and range from 24 percent lower in the Midwest to 13 percent lower in the Northeast. Electricity prices are forecasted to be 3 percent higher this winter – all according to the Winter Fuels Outlook.
Wholesale natural gas costs are forecasted to increase by about 13 percent, yet it’s unclear why the EIA also forecasts retail prices for natural gas are expected to decline rather significantly this winter. See below.
Projected average retail prices as of October 2014 compared to Oct. 2013:
October 2014 / October 2013
- Gasoline: $3.31 per gallon / $3.34 per gallon
- Electricity: 12.42 cents per Kilowatthour / 12.31 cents per Kilowatthour
- Heating Oil: $3.50 per gallon / $3.68 per gallon
- Natural Gas: $13.64 per thousand cubic feet / $12.48 per thousand cubic feet
If you can hold out, some prices are expected to drop throughout winter:
- Gasoline: $3.14 per gallon in December 2014
- Electricity: 12.07 cents per Kilowatthour in January 2015
- Heating Oil: To rise $3.69 per gallon in March 2015
- Natural Gas: $9.77 per thousand cubic feet in February 2014
While the EIA has predicted a warmer winter than last year, others, such as the Farmer’s Almanac, have predicted a colder winter than normal.
Renee Whitener, a spokesperson for Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation and its subsidiary Blue Ridge Energies, noted that fuel prices follow the crude oil trends, which are affected by a variety of factors such as supply and demand and world events.
“The Energy Information Administration reported in its September 2014 update that ‘energy price forecasts are highly uncertain,'” Whitener said. “However, fuel oil and kerosene retail prices are currently very similar to prices a year ago. Winter weather forecasts released recently predict colder weather this winter for our area along with possible increased precipitation which could affect prices as well.”
See below for other information on heating sources, heating assistance programs and tips from Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation on how to save on monthly electric bills during the winter.
Wood is also a popular heating source in the High Country. Check out this new classified-type marketplace website – called High Country Firewood – that links buyers and sellers of firewood in the High Country.
The Hunger & Health Coalition has a wood lot near its offices on Health Center Drive, which is located off of Bamboo Road. For those who are eligible, clients just need to fill out a voucher and be able to load and haul the wood away. People can load and pick up wood on behalf of someone who isn’t able to because of health or transportation issues.
Members of Grace Lutheran Church find, split and stack the wood in the lot adjacent to the offices of The Hunger & Health Coalition office near Bamboo Road. For more information, call 828-262-1628.
Social Services Programs for Heating Assistance
Each year, the Watauga County Department of Social Services offers heating assistance to low-income, elderly and disabled residents. Funding varies year to year.
DSS will begin taking applications for the Crisis Intervention Program (CIP), a program that helps low income households with heating and cooling crisis situations at the beginning of November.
Everyone who wishes to apply for the Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP) will be given the opportunity to apply at the first of November until funds are exhausted.
Only households containing an elderly person age 60 and above or a disabled person receiving services through the Division of Aging and Adult Services (DAAS) are eligible to potentially receive LIEAP benefits until funds are exhausted. Disabled persons are defined as receiving SSI, SSA, or VA disability.
Applications are taken at the Department of Social Services office at 132 Poplar Grove Connector, Suite C, in Boone. Agency hours are 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. Call Watauga County Department of Social Services at 828-265-8100 for more information.
Exact dates will be published once the DSS sends out a public service announcement.
Frontier Natural Gas has a current rate for residential is $1.22/therm with a $7.74/month facility charge. Commercial is $1.21/therm with an $11.61/month facility charge. A therm is a measurement of natural gas equal to a gallon of propane. The current Frontier rate is just below the national average.
Frontier has developed a set of maps, which weren’t available to High Country Press at press time, indicating where main lines have been installed in the Boone area.
Frontier encourages an individual or company desiring natural gas service to contact Kendra Blevins, sales rep for Ashe and Watauga counties, if they are considering natural gas as their choice of fuel.
“Additionally, if several potential customers in an area that currently is not being served by natural gas service would contact the company as a group, it gives Frontier the ability to prepare an economic feasibility model that typically will be more likely to meet the economic requirements and construction requirements of installing additional new main and service lines to unserved areas,” Blevins stated in a release.
“Customers can call the local sales representative to confirm the availability of natural gas in their neighborhood. Once contact has been made and the decision is made by Frontier to extend to an unserved area, a Residential or Commercial agreement must be signed and the approval process begins. Customers that currently have a natural gas line running in front of their home have access to natural gas.”
Blevins can be reached at 336-526-2690.
Steps to Reduce Energy Bills – Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation:
Blue Ridge Electric reminds members that taking energy efficiency steps – even simple low-cost or free steps – can help reduce your monthly energy bill. A few tips are:
- Set thermostats to the lowest comfortable level in winter (68 degrees is suggested). Layer clothes or add a blanket to help keep warm.
- Be mindful when using space heaters since they can use significant amounts of electricity and increase your bill;
- On sunny days, open curtains and blinds on south-facing windows to let the sun help heat your home.
- Wash clothes in cold water to reduce water heating costs
- Take shorter showers and use low-flow shower heads to also reduce water heating costs
- Only run dishwashers and laundry machines when you have full loads.
- Reduce electricity usage by ‘vampire electronics” that are always using electricity (such as cell phone chargers or appliances and gadgets that have digital displays) by turning them off when not in use. Consider plugging several into a power strip so you can switch it off and on as needed.
- Use energy efficient compact florescent lamps (CFLs) or LED bulbs in lighting fixtures
- Check for air leaks around windows, baseboards, plumbing fixtures, doors and other areas and be sure to properly weather strip or caulk
- Close the damper or flue on fireplaces when not in use to reduce heat loss
- Use an electricity monitoring tool to help become aware of usage spikes in your home that increase costs. Blue Ridge Electric offers a free resource atMyUsage.com.
- For free ideas customized to your home, Blue Ridge Electric members can take the easy, short energy audit at BlueRidgeEMC.com. Or call the local Blue Ridge Electric office to have them conduct it with you over the telephone.
- You can also get a free Energy Savers booklet at any Blue Ridge Electric office
- Contact a professional to ensure you have adequate insulation in your home, including attics
- Replace filters for your furnace or heating system according to you manufacturer’s specifications
- Make sure air vents aren’t blocked by furniture or rugs
- Call a professional to ensure your air ducts are insulated and receive repairs if needed
- Install a programmable thermostat to help you automatically adjust your home’s temperature while you sleep or are away from home
- Anytime you replace or purchase a new appliance, look for the Energy Star label to ensure it’s energy efficient
- More tips and videos can be found at the GreenSmart tab on the cooperative’s website.
Other BREMCO programs to help members save on monthly electric bill:
BREMCO FlexPay and Budget Billing
The cooperative’s “pay as you go” plan lets members purchase electricity in any amount they choose. Many members have found it helps to be able to pay by the day or week rather than a monthly bill. There are also no deposits or late fees. Members can pay at district kiosks, online, by phone, or in a Blue Ridge Electric office. Account status alerts are sent by the member’s choice of text message, phone call, or email–or any combination.
Members can equalize their monthly payments. Combine this with bank draft for even more convenience.