By Jesse Wood
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicts that a vast majority of consumers will spend less money on energy this winter, according to the EIA’s 2015 Winter Energy Report, because of warmer weather forecasted and lower energy prices.
The EIA is basing its report on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) latest forecasts that call for a “much warmer” winter east of the Rocky Mountains with the with the Northeast expected to 13 percent warmer, the Midwest 11 percent warmer, and the South 8 percent warmer.
Based on that forecast, the EIA estimates that heating oil bills will be 25 percent less than last winter; natural gas bills 10 percent less; propane bills 18 percent less and electricity 3 percent less.
But due to the “unpredictable” winters of late, the EIA also releases price estimates based on the weather being 10 percent warmer or 10 percent cooler. See the adjacent graph for those percentages.
Renee Whitener, a spokesperson for Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation and its subsidiary Blue Ridge Energies, noted that fuel prices tend to follow crude oil trends, which are affected by a variety of factors such as supply and demand and world events.
“If the EIA forecast holds true, consumers can expect to pay significantly less for fuel this heating season compared to the prior year,” Whitener said. “However, as we know, the weather can be unpredictable in our area, but all indications are strong that most consumers will be spend less on heating fuels this winter.”
Currently, crude oil prices are scraping the barrel and sit at about $42 per barrel. This compares to crude oil prices of more than $100 per barrel two years ago and about $75 per barrel last November.
“Heating oil prices are expected to be lower than last winter because of lower forecast crude oil prices and a relatively soft global distillate market compared with recent years,” the EIA report notes on heating oil prices. “The Brent crude oil price is forecast to average $52/b this winter, which would be $13/b (32 cents per gallon) lower than last winter. Brent crude oil prices are forecast to remain below levels in recent years as the global oil market continues to experience an excess of supply to consumption.”
The report noted that the Henry Hub price for natural gas, which is used in nearly half of residential households in the U.S., this winter is $2.92 per million Btu, compared to $3.35 per million Btu. While lower estimated price averages are due to “continuing production growth and high injections,” the EIA warns that “transportation constraints” could contribute to local price fluctuations in the Northeast, especially New England.
Frontier Natural Gas is a local dealer. See rates here.
Estimated prices for propane, which heats about 4 percent of house in the nation, vary by region, for example, folks in the Midwest are expected to spend 21 percent less while those in the Northeast might pay 15 percent less based on current forecasts.
Heading into the winter months, U.S. inventories of propane and propylene reached 98.7 million barrels as of September 25, the highest level since EIA began collecting weekly propane inventory statistics in 1993 and 19 million barrels higher than at the same time last year.
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.
As the EIA noted, “Forecast expenditures for all fuels are lower than last winter, with only electricity higher than the previous five-winter average” – but that’s based on national averages.
East of the Rocky Mountains, consumers are expected to have lower winter electricity bills than last year.
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 typically fine for most households but individual household needs vary). Since heating systems must work harder to keep homes at a set temperature, this is especially helpful when temperatures drop significantly. Layering clothes or add a blanket can help keep you 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. Remember to close them at night to reduce heat escaping.
- 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 free resources with their Energy Advisor program available at www.BlueRidgeEMC.com.
- Blue Ridge Electric members can take a free, simple energy audit that’s also available through their Energy Advisor at BlueRidgeEMC.com. Or call a local Blue Ridge Electric office to conduct it with a member services representative over the telephone.
- Energy Savers booklets with tips are available at any Blue Ridge Electric office.
- You may also want to 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.
Other Blue Ridge Electric programs to help members save on monthly electric bill:
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 smaller amounts by the day or week rather than a single monthly bill. There are also no deposits or late fees. Members can pay 24/7 at district office kiosks, online, by phone, or during regular business hours in a Blue Ridge Electric office.