Costs for heating expected to rise

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HANCOCK COUNTY — Heating bills are expected to rise significantly this winter due mostly to natural gas market conditions across the globe.

One area natural gas provider cautions monthly bills could jump nearly 50%.

The Associated Press reports that after years of unusually inexpensive levels, the price of natural gas in the U.S. has more than doubled since this time last year. In Europe and Asia, wholesale prices are more than five times what they were a year ago.

Those surging costs have coincided with a recovery from the pandemic recession, with more homes and businesses burning all forms of fuel. That intensified demand is poised to contribute to higher heating costs in many areas of the world.

Having enjoyed a prolonged period of low prices, consumers of natural gas are facing the burden of far more expensive fuel — and the prospect of much higher heating bills this winter.

“Consumers got used to very low prices last year, because with the pandemic everything was shut down,” said Mark Wolfe, executive director of the National Energy Assistance Directors Association.

OVERSET FOLLOWS:“Now, everything’s coming back online, industry is returning and natural gas is being used again in very large quantities. And that’s pushing up the price.”

Power companies in Europe and Asia are engaged in bidding wars over shiploads of liquid natural gas, thereby driving up the cost. Prices are also spiking in the U.S., which converts some of its natural gas into liquid and ships it to Europe and Asia. Those higher costs are showing up in gas bills for consumers around the globe. Analysts expect those prices to rise further through winter, when customers are most reliant on the fuel.

CenterPoint Energy’s Indiana North natural gas territory serves about 625,000 customers in nearly 50 Indiana counties, including Hancock County. The company says customers may see a significant increase in their natural gas bills when compared to those of last winter, assuming normal winter weather.

This winter, based on expected natural gas commodity costs and normal winter weather, customers can expect to pay on average $130 a month over the five-month heating season of November through March. By comparison, last year’s average bill amount for the five-month period was around $88 a month.

“Even with higher natural gas prices this winter heating season, bills should still remain lower than customers experienced in the late 2000s when prices for natural gas were at record levels nationwide,” said Richard Leger, CenterPoint Energy’s vice president of natural gas distribution, Indiana and Ohio, in a news release.

State and federal utility assistance dollars are available for income-eligible customers through the Energy Assistance Program. Those that fall within 60% of state median income are encouraged to visit their local community action agency to sign up for the program. To apply, customers should call 1-800-872-0371 to locate their nearest community action agency. Customers may also apply any time at the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority website at ihcda.rhsconnect.com.