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Prices Mixed For 2013-14 Winter Heating Season: Propane, Natural Gas and Electricity Higher, Heating Oil Lower; Heating Assistance Programs Available

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

By Jesse Wood

Oct. 24, 2014. While a few local suppliers are reluctant to release quotes regarding heating prices for this story, the U.S. Energy Information Administration notes that heating prices are mixed over last year.

Wholesale rates, and in turn retail rates for suppliers, follow the trends of the barrel price of crude oil, which is currently at $96.86 per barrel – a 10.5 percent increase over this time last year. That figure, though, does represent about a five percent drop from last week.

According to the U.S. EIA, residential heating oil costs $3.85 per gallon while residential propane costs $2.37 per gallon. Heating oil prices are down 5 percent for the year while the cost of propane has increased 7 percent since last fall. These figures are as of Oct. 21 and do not include taxes. U.S. EIA didn’t have up-to-date prices for kerosene.

“It’s looking pretty decent for the winter and hopefully good pricing for everybody,” said Len Ashley of Thompson Gas/Mountain Oil.

Renee Whitener, a spokeswoman for Blue Ridge Energies and BREMCO, echoed Ashley’s statements in an email.

“The Energy Information Administration released its Short Term Energy Winter Fuels Outlook on Oct. 8, 2013, which predicts heating oil costs to actually be 2 percent less this winter compared to last winter. Retail prices are currently lower today compared to this time last year as well,” Whitener said.

The following is from the Short Term Energy Winter Fuels Outlook: “EIA projects average U.S. household expenditures for natural gas and propane will increase by 13 percent and 9 percent, respectively, this winter heating season (October 1 through March 31) compared with last winter. Projected U.S. household expenditures are 2 percent higher for electricity and 2 percent lower for heating oil this winter. Although EIA expects average expenditures for households that heat with natural gas will be significantly higher than last winter, they are still lower than the previous 5-year average.”

For a listing of heating oil suppliers in Boone, click here; propane suppliers, click here; and for kerosene, click here.


The Hunger & Health Coalition has a wood lot for those in need of firewood in winter.
The Hunger & Health Coalition has a wood lot for those in need of firewood in 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

The following is a public service announcement released by the Watauga County Department of Social Services:

DSS will begin taking applications for the Crisis Intervention Program (CIP), a program that helps low income households with heating and cooling crisis situations, on Nov. 1.

Everyone who wishes to apply for the Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP) will be given the opportunity to apply beginning Nov. 1 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 from December 2, 2013 through January 31, 2014 or until funds are exhausted. Disabled persons are defined as receiving SSI, SSA, or VA disability.

Any household can potentially receive benefits from February 3, 2014 through March 31, 2014 or until funds are exhausted, if all eligibility requirements are met.

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.

Steps to Reduce Energy Bills

Courtesy of BREMCO, members can reduce energy bills by following a few tips described below: 

  • Set thermostats to the lowest comfortable level in winter (68 degrees is suggested)
  • Be mindful when using space heaters since they can use significant amounts of electricity and drive up costs;
  • On sunny days, open curtains on south-facing windows to let in the sun’s heat.
  • 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
  • Reduce energy usage by ‘vampire electronics” that are “always on” (appliances that have digital displays) by turning them off when not in use. Consider plugging several into a power strip so you can switch them off and on as needed.
  • Chargers left plugged in are also using energy–unplug chargers when not in use.  
  • Use energy efficient compact florescent lamps in lighting fixtures
  • Check for air leaks around windows, baseboards, plumbing fixtures, doors and other areas and be sure to properly caulk or weather strip
  • 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 resources for this at MyUsage.com.
  • For tips customized to your home, Blue Ridge Electric members can take the free, short energy audit at BlueRidgeEMC.comor call the local Blue Ridge Electric office to have them conduct it over the telephone.

More tips and videos can be found at the GreenSmart tab on the cooperative’s website: http://www.blueridgeemc.com/#pg-greensmart

BREMCO Programs To Help Members Manage Heating Costs Throughout Year

FlexPay: The cooperative’s “pay as you go” plan lets members purchase electricity in any amount they choose and pay by the day, week or month–whatever is most convenient for the member. There are also no deposits or late fees. Members can pay online, by phone, or in a Blue Ridge Electric office using debit/credit cards, check, or cash. Account status alerts are sent by the member’s choice of text message, phone call, or email–or a combination. Members can also monitor their usage and account balance at MyUsage.com.

Budget Billing: Members can equalize their payments over 12 months. Combine this with bank draft for even more convenience.

Blue Ridge Electric’s Operation Round Up is available to provide funds to assist with heating fuel costs and electric bills.

In addition, a great gift idea–or for purchase by anyone who would like to assist someone in their community with heating costs this winter or at any time during the year–may purchase gift certificates through either Blue Ridge Electric or Blue Ridge Energies.

Members are strongly encouraged to contact Blue Ridge Electric at any time to discuss payment options or programs or for any questions they may have.