PSC: Natural gas costs to be lower this winter

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – Kentucky families who heat their homes with natural gas will see much lower prices at the start of the 2015-2016 heating season than they did a year ago, the Kentucky Public Service Commission said Tuesday.

According to the PSC, gas prices are down by more than a third from this time last year, and have fallen by more than two-thirds from the peak reached in 2008.

On average, Kentucky customers can expect their total gas bill to be about 21 percent smaller this November than last, based on consumption of 10,000 cubic feet of natural gas. The average total bill for 10,000 cubic feet – including base rates – is projected to be about $83.74. That is down about $23 from last year and a decrease of more than $67 – or about 44 percent – since November of 2008. The lower cost of natural gas has more than offset increases in base rates over that time.

“Development of new sources of natural gas has produced a long-term decline in prices,” PSC Chairman Jim Gardner said. “The supply has kept pace with higher demand from both an improving economy and greater use of natural gas to fuel electric power plants.”

Weather determines the amount of energy that consumers use to heat their homes and thus is the major factor in the size of their heating bill, Gardner said.

“The extended outlook for this winter is for temperatures to be close to normal or perhaps a bit warmer than usual in Kentucky,” Gardner said. “Areas to our north are forecast to be warmer than normal, which would reduce usage and help keep natural gas prices low.”

But whatever the weather or the cost of natural gas, consumers would still benefit by taking steps to reduce consumption, he said.

“Today’s low natural gas costs offer an opportunity to invest in permanent improvements, such as weatherization, that will insulate homeowners against higher energy costs in the future,” Gardner said.

Natural gas costs this year are, on average, about 38 percent lower than a year ago. As the cost of gas falls, base rates make up a larger portion of the total bill, which is why the overall average decrease is smaller than the average decline in the cost of gas itsel.

The 39% of Kentuckians who use electric heat are likely to see somewhat higher bills on average this winter, in part because two of Kentucky’s largest electric utilities had a rate increase in the last year.

Although fuel prices have been relatively stable in recent years, many Kentuckians still struggle to pay their heating bills, Gardner said. Heating assistance is available from local community action agencies and from utility companies, but funds are limited and sometimes run out during the heating season, he said.

“Do not wait to act until you are in danger of losing utility service,” Gardner said. “If you anticipate difficulties in paying your heating bill this winter, now is the time to find out where you might be able to receive assistance.”


 

COPING WITH HOME HEATING COSTS: Information for consumers

Kentucky consumers can take a number of steps to reduce their natural gas usage or to soften the impact of gas costs. They include:

  • Budget billing: This option allows customers to pay the same amount each month, based on their average monthly usage during the year. Customers should contact their utility for more information.
  • Energy conservation measures: Simple steps such as turning down thermostats on furnaces (most people are comfortable at 68 degrees) and water heaters (120 degrees is hot enough for nearly all uses) can be big energy savers.
  • Energy audits: Many local utilities offer home energy audits at little or no cost to consumers. These audits can identify energy-wasting trouble spots and provide information on how to correct the problems.
  • Weatherization: Consumers can do a number of things to reduce inflows of cold air and leakage of warm air, particularly around windows and doors. Some basic weatherization steps include:
    • Use caulk or weatherstripping to seal cracks around windows, doors, pipes and other points where cold air can enter the home. This alone can reduce heating costs by 10 percent or more.
    • Install energy-efficient doors and windows.
    • Add insulation in attics, crawl spaces and walls.
    • Cover windows, especially those with single-pane glass, with storm windows or plastic sheeting before the onset of cold weather.
    • Clean or replace furnace filters monthly to improve airflow and efficiency.

Advice on conserving energy, including links to a wide range of information, also is available from the Kentucky Department for Energy Development and Independence.

General information on energy programs to assist low-income Kentuckians can be found on the Community Action Kentucky website.

Weatherization assistance for low-income families is available in Kentucky. Many utilities offer weatherization assistance in conjunction with local social service agencies. Local social service agencies also offer assistance through a state program administered by the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services. For information on weatherization assistance, click here.

Low-income consumers may qualify for assistance with their heating bills through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). It is administered at the local level by community action agencies. Consumers who do not qualify for LIHEAP may be eligible for assistance through programs sponsored by their utility company or programs operated by local social service organizations. Consumers should contact their utility for more information. Information about LIHEAP is available here.

For general information about cutting heating costs, utility issues or for assistance with resolving consumer disputes with utilities, contact the PSC by calling 800-772-4636 or go to the PSC website.

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