Heating forecast released

While the U.S. Department of Energy predicts most households will pay more to heat their homes this winter, some area households, notably those using natural gas, will pay rates below the national average.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration, in its winter forecast released Tuesday, said it expects more than 90 percent of homes will pay more for heating this winter, largely because of higher prices for natural gas, electric and propane.

Marcellus Shale exploration will help hold down costs for the 58 percent of Blair County households using natural gas for heat.

Households across the Northeast using natural gas are forecasted to have average heating bills of $1,045 this year, an 18 percent increase from last winter, the EIA said. The average price per 1,000 cubic feet (mcf) is predicted to be $13.54 in the Northeast this winter.

But Peoples Natural Gas customers are paying much less than the national average, even though the current price is higher than a year ago.

The current price for Peoples customers is about $4.317 per thousand cubic feet, said Barry Kukovich, Peoples spokesman.

“Our lower price is the result of Marcellus Shale. There is an abundance of gas,” Kukovich said.

The gas charge a year ago for the October to December period was $3.98 per mcf.

Peoples and other natural gas companies adjust their prices quarterly to reflect what they pay for the gas. This charge represents about 75 percent of the average residential bill.

For heating oil customers, there is good news and bad news in the Energy Department’s annual outlook for heating costs. Their average bill nationally should drop 2 percent, to $2,046. But that’s still the second highest average on record, behind last year’s $2,092.

The EIA report doesn’t provide for a regional breakdown on heating oil costs.

Temperatures in the Northeast are expected to be about 3 percent colder than a year ago, resulting in a 3 percent increase in consumption of heating oil.

Bills will be lower, however, because the average price for heating oil will drop to $3.68 a gallon from $3.87.

The price for home heating oil in the Altoona area on Tuesday was $3.269 per gallon if the bill is paid within 10 days, said Tom Martin, president of Martin Oil Co., Bellwood.

Martin is optimistic the price will remain low.

“I believe it will remain relatively low because of the high supply of petroleum products and decrease in demand compared to prior years. It is a good time to buy right now,” Martin said.

The price for home heating oil in the Ebensburg area was $3.299 per gallon, said Jim Barber, one of the owners of Barber Oil Co., Ebensburg.

Barber said he doesn’t know what to expect.

“Our prices have remained fairly steady, but we don’t know what to expect any more,” Barber said.

About a fourth of Blair County households use oil for heat.

Some analysts are concerned about a spike in heating oil prices. That’s because the fuels that refiners make alongside heating oil, including diesel and jet fuel, are in high demand around the world, and inventories are low.

“If there’s one type of product that could catch fire and go higher, it’s heating oil,” said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service and GasBuddy.com.

Households in the Northeast using electric for heating are expected to pay an average of $1,083 this winter, about 4 percent more than a year ago.

Slightly more than 11 percent of Blair County households depend on electricity for heat.

Only 1 percent of Blair County households rely on bottled gas or propane for heating. Across the Northeast, the EIA is predicting those homes will face a heating cost of $2,146, a 10.6 percent increase from last year.