While those that forecast the weather are still at work determining what the winter will hold for Western New York, officials at National Fuel Gas Distribution Corp. have good news for their customers based on initial analysis.
Given last year's record warmth, customers may experience a slight increase from a year ago, though heating costs are still near the lowest in more than a decade.
The current forecasted seasonal bill for an average residential customer for the winter of 2012-13 (November through March) is $657, compared to last year's warmest winter on record of $615. Based on an assumption of normal winter weather, National Fuel customers could experience an overall seasonal increase of $42 or $8.40 per month. Had last year's Western New York winter been "normal," the average residential bill would have been $705, which is higher than what is forecasted for this coming winter season.
"Before we talk about what's ahead, it's important to look at the winter behind to give proper perspective," said Karen L. Merkel, spokesperson for National Fuel. "Last winter was 23 percent warmer than normal; in fact, it was the warmest winter on record - ever. The average bill last winter for the season was $615, a 17.8 percent decrease from the previous winter of 2010-11."
When comparing the outlook for the winter of 2012-13 to historical normal average winter heating bills, the total cost this year is expected to be down from 10 to 30 percent when you look at the three, five- and 10-year historic averages.
If customers are wondering why natural gas heating prices are significantly lower, National Fuel's cost for natural gas is the lowest it has been in more than 10 years, and this is largely attributable to the abundant supply of domestic natural gas, namely the Marcellus Shale impact.
The increase in Marcellus Shale gas is positively impacting New York customers by keeping natural gas costs low despite the fact that there is no production here. Shale gas provides the largest source growth in the U.S. natural gas supply, according to the Energy Information Administration.
National Fuel's supply diversification is key to reliability and the utility's ability to purchase natural gas at the lowest possible cost while ensuring security of supply. The utility has a variety of natural gas supply sources and uses a combination of proven methods that allows tremendous flexibility to adjust purchases - including forward pricing, monthly pricing and the use of underground storage.
"All of the Northeast market demand for natural gas is currently being met by Northeast production; hydraulically fractured shale gas is supplying Western New York with its natural gas and is significantly contributing to the lower heating bills that our customers are experiencing," Merkel said.
Given what is a very stable price environment for the winter heating season, National Fuel officials realize that there will be customers who will have difficulty paying their monthly heating bills. Customers who may need help managing their bills should consider joining the budget plan where predictable monthly gas payments can make budgeting easier. If interested, call 1-800-365-3234.
The Neighbor For Neighbor Heat Fund will remain open year round in an effort to make heating grants more accessible for the elderly and the disabled. The Home Energy Assistance Program will open on Nov. 19, and the maximum natural gas grant will be $450. Customers are encouraged to apply as soon as the program opens - by mail, telephone, online or in person. For additional information, call 1-877-443-2743 or visit the website at www.heaphelps.com.