Says less than $10 per month increase for average customer
From National Fuel:
As residents of Western New York hunker down to weather the pandemic this winter at home, nearly every facet of life will remain impacted as we safeguard against the coronavirus. Working from home, learning remotely and the potential that holiday gatherings will look a lot different this year seems to be the new normal.
As the seasons fade into each other, National Fuel Gas Distribution Corp. is fully prepared for the winter heating season and, based on potential weather conditions and modest increases in natural gas commodity pricing, the natural gas utility anticipates a slim increase in customer bills during the winter heating season months – November through March – of slightly less than $10 per month when compared to last year’s unseasonably warm winter.
While last winter may be difficult to remember with everything else that has taken place, temperatures were 10.8% warmer than the usual Western New York winter. While the season started fast and furious with an early November snowstorm and frigid temperatures, November 2019 was the only month of last winter that finished colder than normal.
Measurable snowfall was also in short supply, as nearly 69.2 inches fell compared to the average of 94 inches. With the warmer temperatures and limited snowfall, last winter’s average residential customer bill totaled $493. With forecasters predicting a more typical Western New York winter that is being labeled “more wet than white,” National Fuel officials are estimating bills may total in the range of $542 for the five months of winter.
For perspective, in reviewing winter heating season costs in the past 10 years, National Fuel customers had bills that ranged from the highest point at $802 down to the warmest winter in history with a seasonal bill of $390. Before the dramatic increase in domestically produced natural gas from the Marcellus Shale play, average winter heating season bills were well above $1,000 for Western New York customers.
National Fuel customers can credit several factors in having the most affordable customer bills across New York state and second in the Northeast, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The utility’s geographic proximity to multiple pipeline capacity systems and abundant local natural gas production of Marcellus and Utica shale; its prudent gas acquisition efforts, and use of underground natural gas storage to balance supply needs during the coldest usage periods provide a distinct and consistent economic advantage over other utilities at the state level.
Nearly half of the natural gas that customers will use this winter was purchased during the summer months when the prices on the New York Mercantile Exchange ranged from $1.50 to $2.60. All of those summer natural gas purchases were sourced from Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia – all shale-producing regions – generally selling at a discount ranging from $.50 to $1 below the NYMEX summer prices, equivalent to an approximate average of $1.20. These low summer prices have resulted in some of the lowest cost storage inventory over the past several years. Withdrawal and delivery of this low-cost inventory from the storage fields throughout the upcoming winter will likely help mitigate any impact of higher winter prices to our customers. The current winter NYMEX strip is trading at $3.08. Natural gas commodity prices have been increasing in recent years after record-low prices.
“Now more than ever we realize that our customers may need assistance paying their natural gas utility bills and there are numerous programs available,” said Karen L. Merkel, spokesperson for National Fuel. “The best advice is to call National Fuel’s customer assistance so we can work to determine what program or programs a payment-challenged customer might qualify for.”
The federally-funded Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) provides payment-challenged families and individuals with financial assistance on a first-come, first-served basis, based on income guidelines. HEAP will open across New York on Nov. 2. Visit www.HeapHelps.com to check eligibility.
A quick call to customer assistance can provide information on the following programs: “Neighbor For Neighbor Heat Fund” is open year-round and helps qualified customers, aged 55 years or older – or who have a certified medical condition, are disabled, are currently receiving unemployment benefits, or are a veteran – to prevent an energy emergency; a deferred payment agreement allows the potential to negotiate a repayment plan in the event of a problem or special circumstance; special protections is applicable for households where all residents are aged 62 years or older, 18 years or younger, blind or disabled. Customer assistance is available each weekday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. by contacting 1-800-365-3234.
National Fuel customers are reminded to pay attention to outdoor gas meters, furnaces and vents throughout the winter season. Snow, ice and extremely cold temperatures can pose a variety of safety and performance issues for heating systems. Natural gas furnaces and fireplaces have a vent pipe or flue that sends exhaust and byproducts outdoors through a chimney or pipe. Furnace exhaust vents can become easily clogged by debris, ice or snow, causing the furnace to shut off or operate inefficiently. Blocked vents also can lead to a buildup of carbon monoxide gas inside a residence.
National Fuel Gas Distribution Corp. is the utility segment of National Fuel Gas Co., a diversified energy company that is engaged in a number of natural gas-related activities. The utility provides natural gas service to approximately 740,000 customers in Western New York and northwestern Pennsylvania.