Winter heating bills set to rise from colder weather and higher energy costs

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - The average cost of heating homes will rise this winter due to expected colder weather and higher energy costs, says the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Katie Conway, a spokesperson for the Alaska Energy Authority, explains the impact of a rise in costs will not be felt equally across the state.

The EIA published their annual report titled “Winter Fuels Outlook 2017-18” earlier this week. They report that “average increases vary by fuel, with natural gas expenditures forecast to rise by 12%, home heating oil by 17%, electricity by 8%, and propane by 18%.”

Colder weather is expected to contribute to the majority of the rises in price. The EIA has used data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to make their prediction. NOAA has forecast this upcoming winter will be 13% colder than last winter across the United States, “with forecasts ranging from 27% colder than last winter in the South region to 4% colder than last winter in the West.”

The majority of people living on the Railbelt use natural gas sourced from Cook Inlet, says Conway. Because Cook Inlet natural gas is a “stranded source,” Railbelt residents have not felt the volatility and high-prices felt on world markets.

Conway explains that communities in rural Alaska reliant on heating oil will have bulk purchased for this upcoming winter, meaning a price rise may not immediately impact them.

“[They] might not feel the pinch of an increase in heating oil or diesel prices now, but if the price doesn't go down they might feel it in the spring of whenever they do their next bulk purchase,” said Conway.

The biggest impact for price rises in heating oil would be felt by the 20-30% of the state living around the Fairbanks-North Star Borough and Southeast Alaska regions, said Conway. Many people in those areas use heating oil but don’t bulk purchase like communities in rural Alaska.

The EIA report says a 17% price rise to heating oils compared to last year would still be cheaper than during the winters 2011 – 14 when crude oil prices were much higher.

Alaska Energy Awareness Month
Governor Bill Walker proclaimed October as “Alaska Energy Awareness Month,” encouraging Alaskans to “appreciate the role of responsible resource development, increased energy efficiency, and renewable energy alternatives as essential parts of creating a sustainable energy future for our state.”

“The Renewable Energy Fund (REF) awards made between 2008 and 2015 created more than 70 renewable energy projects, displacing more than 30 million diesel equivalent gallons and generating tens of millions of dollars in savings for consumers and communities each year,” read Walker’s proclamation.

Reducing your energy bills
Katie Conway says Fall is a great time to be thinking about energy efficiency. Jimmy Ord, the Energy Program Information Manager at the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation (AHFC), and Conway have some simple tips for Alaskans to reduce their energy bills.

- Turn your water heater down. Conway explains the factory setting for water heaters are typically a lot hotter than they need to be. Consumer guidelines are to have it set at 120’F.

- Use a programmable thermostat and if you don’t have one be diligent to turn it down when you’re out of the house. Newer programmable thermostats can be operated by smartphones, explains Ord.

-Air sealing: use window film and caulking around drafty windows. Ord says to look at drafts around plumbing and sockets as they often let out a lot of heat. He says to be careful to not air seal too drastically and negatively impact air quality.

- A bigger investment, as Ord explains, is to buy a new heating system. He says older systems were around 60% efficient while newer systems are 95-98% efficient. Older systems lose 40% of energy put into them with no benefit to the homeowner.

- Pay for a professional energy audit. You can consult a list of approved AHFC operators. They will check the home’s tightness and recommend ways to save energy bills.

Average price rises across the United States - natural gas households
The EIA says natural gas costs are expected to rise an average of 12% or $69 over the course of winter.

Heating oil
Households heating primarily with heating oil are expected to spend an average of $215 more this winter than last winter.

Electricity
The EIA has forecast that households that heat with electricity will see prices rise $74 or 8% this winter compared to prices last winter.

Propane
The average costs of propane is expected to rise 18% this winter compared to last winter.

The Alaska Center for Appropriate Technology (ACAT) is running a “Path to Net Zero Workshop Series” as a way to teach Alaskans how reduce their electricity bills. The workshop is being held Saturday, November 4, between 1:00-5:00 p.m. at the Mat-Su College, Palmer.

The AHFC website also has information for people striving to make their homes more efficient.