Springfield residents may find it will be more expensive to stay warm this winter, mostly because experts are predicting a harsher winter compared to last year.
Average temperatures across the Midwest are expected to be about 17 percent colder compared to last winter, according to a recent report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Nationally customers can likely expect higher prices and increased consumption for consumers.
Natural gas prices are expected to rise about 22 percent nationally, according to the Energy Department, while consumption of natural gas is expected to increase about 10 percent. Last year’s winter was warmer than normal, so consumption is expected to increase as temperatures return closer to normal, the Energy Department said.
Columbia Gas officials said any increase in costs locally will mostly be due to higher consumption, depending on the weather. If natural gas prices increase, it will be minimal, said Kelli Nowinsky, a spokeswoman for Columbia Gas of Ohio.
The company serves about 39,300 customers in Clark County, about 5,400 customers in Champaign County and close to 1.4 million residential and business customers statewide.
The winter heating season runs from November to March. Average bills ranged from a low of $50.20 in November last year to a high of $98.07 in January, Nowinsky said.
“Natural gas prices are strongly influenced by the weather,” she said. “If we have a cold winter, they’re likely going to push slightly higher but we do expect the price to be very low. It might raise just a hair but it wouldn’t be enough for any customer to truly notice.”
She also noted the cost of natural gas is a bargain compared to several years ago. Customers in the 2008-2009 heating season paid closer to $133 a month in the company’s budget payment plan.
It’s difficult to predict exactly what this heating season will look like, Nowinsky said.
“We’re really going to have to see,” Nowinsky said. “As you know, Mother Nature can always throw a wild card in there for us. We don’t expect a change in the cost of the commodity. If prices change, it’s going to be weather-driven.”
There are several ways customers can keep bills slightly lower this year, said Bob Warren, owner of Hauck Brothers Inc., a Springfield company that specializes in installing and repairing heating and air conditioning systems.
“This time of year the main thing to do is get your equipment serviced for the winter and make sure it’s running at top efficiency,” Warren said. “That’s the push right now and that sets you up for the winter so at least you know your piece of equipment is running as efficiently as it can.”
Other items, like programmable thermostats, can also help save customers money by automatically adjusting the temperature at various points throughout the day. WiFi thermostats allow homeowners to adjust the temperature inside remotely through a cell phone.
Meteorologists at WHIO-TV are also predicting more normal winter weather this season.
“Last winter it was really mild because we had El Nino,” said WHIO-TV meteorologist Brett Collar, referring to climate changes around the Pacific Ocean. “That’s not the case this winter. So it’s looking to be more fairly typical.”
Whether you dread or love snow, though, this winter doesn’t look to be a replay of the harsh one the Miami Valley experienced two years ago, according to WHIO-TV meteorologist Kirstie Zontini.
“But it’s Ohio,” Zontini said. “We do have periods of cold; we’ll have periods of snow. But it should be closer to average.”
Polar vortexes aren’t necessarily expected at this point, the meteorologists said.
Staff Writer Thomas Gnau contributed to this report
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By the numbers:
50 percent — Estimated homes in U.S. heated primarily with natural gas
22 percent — Estimated increase in cost in U.S. compared to last winter
10 percent — Predicted increase in U.S. consumption compared to last year
11 percent — Anticipated increase in natural gas prices for residential customers in U.S.