Heating costs for most fuels may drop for upstate New Yorkers based on predictions from prominent stakeholders, but weather conditions this winter may change their course.
How do you heat your home?
If residents experience a typical winter, New Yorkers could experience declines in natural gas prices compared to last year due to hedging and supply storage, according to October forecasts from National Grid and the Public Service Commission. The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s prediction for natural gas for the Northeast concurred with the commission and National Grid, and also forecasted possible drops in heating oil and propane. Electricity prices, however, are expected to climb from last year for National Grid users.
Weather, particularly if New Yorkers experience a harsher winter, may alter estimates and usage, and predictions vary per provider.
“We will continue to closely monitor the utilities serving New York state to make sure they have adequate sources and supplies of electricity and natural gas to meet current customer demands this winter,” wrote commission Chairman John B. Rhodes in a statement.
Almost half of all the about 119 million U.S. households are heated with natural gas, according to the information administration.
Residential natural gas users in New York who use an average of 720 thermal units could pay less than $760 from November through March, according to the Public Service Commission. Gas companies already have hedged enough gas to meet 49 percent of their residential customer demand, which helps reduce supply prices. Costs, however, may vary depending on provider and weather.
National Grid, which provides gas to users in much of Jefferson and Oswego counties, estimates that customers who use an average of 719 therms of gas will pay $466 between Nov. 1 and March 30, down $102, or $20.40 per month, from last year. Spokeswoman Virginia J. Limmiatis said the forecast factors a 36 percent drop in supply prices, influenced by market conditions, and a 5 percent uptick in delivery prices, caused by the utility’s three-year plan for annual increases in electricity and gas rates, approved back in March of 2018. The utility also has hedged some of its gas supply.
“Hedging is purchasing supply during off months, so that would be the summer, and that helps mitigate price spikes,” Ms. Limmiatis said.
Customers of NYSEG, which serves much of Lewis County, also may experience a decline in their natural gas expenses. Michael Jamison, manager of corporate communications for NYSEG’s parent company Avangrid, said his company concurs with the commission’s forecast, but declined to share its own specific price predictions because they are privately filed with the commission. Avangrid also owns Rochester Gas & Electric and Avangrid Renewables.
“We would agree with what the commission has to say,” Mr. Jamison said.
Enbridge St. Lawrence Gas, which provides natural gas to much of St. Lawrence County and portions of Lewis and Franklin counties, did not return a request for comment.
Many use propane and heating oil to heat their homes during the winter, and they too may see dips in their costs.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, households in the Northeast can expect to spend an average of $228, or 12 percent, less on propane than last winter, based on a projected 10 percent drop in prices and 3 percent decline in demand. The forecast factors only the prevailing retail price paid at the time of use, not purchases ahead of that time. Almost 6 million homes in the U.S. use propane as a primary heating source.
The average U.S. household that relies on heating oil as a primary source for heat can expect to spend $1,501 this winter, 4 percent, or $69, less than last winter, according to the Energy Information Administration. The projection reflects the administration’s prediction that prices for heating oil and consumption will be down from last winter.
With pipelines, vessels from U.S. ports and imports from nearby countries, homes in the Northeast have access to a variety of supply options, leading the administration to expect no significant price fluctuations or supply disruptions. About 5.7 million households in the U.S. use heating oil as a primary heating fuel source, according to the information administration.
Customers who use funds from the Home Energy Assistance Program to help pay their heating bills may find comfort in having lower expenses, but it may have little effect on the program.
Teresa W. Gaffney, commissioner of Jefferson County Department of Social Services, the local distributer of HEAP program funds for the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance for the county, said the amount of funds provided by the state will not change, and neither will the base benefit amount for households. The state has not yet notified the office of the amount of money it plans to allocate for HEAP for the upcoming winter season, she said. The local office provided 11,458 benefits last season, Ms. Gaffney said.
“What it may do is extend the heating season if the funds are there,” she said. “Trying to predict what it’s going to look like is difficult.”
Income, household size and primary heating source determine who can receive HEAP program funds and how much, according to the state. Eligible households that primarily rely on electricity and natural gas to heat their homes and pay vendors directly are eligible for at least $350. Those who use heat, kerosene and heating oil can receive a base amount of $650.
Residents who heat their homes with wood, however, may spend more this winter, according to one longtime north country forester.
Patrick J. Curran, who owns Curran Renewable Energy and Seaway Timber Harvesting, said he expects a small hike in pricing for firewood, which he does not sell, and wood pellets, which he sells. The cold, wet spring forced suppliers to offer customers a portion of inventory they planned to use for the upcoming winter, and with Tractor Supply and other retailers continuing to purchase stock early, overall supplies are down from last year. Mr. Curran said he and other wood product providers also must increase prices to keep up with rising costs.
“The inventory is pretty well exhausted,” he said.
Electricity prices for National Grid customers in upstate New York also are expected to climb from last winter.
According to the utility, households that use an average of 600 kilowatt-hours per month can expect to pay $3.75 more. While supply prices are projected to drop 3.5 percent, the delivery price is expected to increase 9.2 percent due to the annual rate hike from National Grid’s three-year plan, Ms. Limmiatis said.
About 40 percent of households in the U.S., or almost 50 million, use electricity not only to power their homes, but also for heat, according to the information administration.