Bloomberg photo by Tomohiro Ohsumi.
Photo: Staff Writer
Photo: Staff Writer

Here’s what to expect with your home heating prices this winter

Natural gas prices are expected to remain steady this winter season, keeping home heating prices similar to last year.

That’s good news as temperatures are expected to dip into the 30s next week and will mean homeowners begin turning on their furnaces.

Between November 2018 and March, the five months considered the winter heating season, Vectren Energy Delivery of Ohio customers paid about $430, or an average $85 per month.

“In the event we experience normal winter weather – as we did last year – customers could see similar bill amounts this season thanks to continued low, stable natural gas prices,” said Richard Leger, Vectren vice president of Natural Gas Distribution, Indiana and Ohio. “Gas bills continue to remain very affordable compared to historic highs we’ve experienced in the past.”

Natural gas
Photo: Staff Writer

Natural gas, which is used to heat nearly half of all U.S. households, was $2.37 per billion British thermal units last week. During the same period last year the cost was around $3.13, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Prices during that week reached as high as $7.13 during the Great Recession in 2008.

“Our biggest drivers are any disruptions in service and reserve and anticipation of weather,” said Bob Wilkens, University of Dayton associate dean of research who spent two decades working at Shell Oil Company. “Our production capability has been expanding with fracking throughout the region, so we’ve been able to produce natural gas in sizable volumes here in Ohio.”

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Storm Center 7 Meteorologist McCall Vrydaghs said there aren’t expected to be any global weather events that would impact area natural gas prices. Ohio is not expecting an El Niño or La Niña event this year, which typically mean either warmer than usual or with more snow than usual, she said.

“It will probably come around as an average winter for us in the Miami Valley. We don’t have anything else that’s driving the winter that would make us colder than normal or warmer than normal,” Vrydaghs said.

Vectren is the primary deliverer of natural gas in the Dayton area, and natural gas is the primary heating source. But Vectren is not a supplier.

“The price of natural gas represents around 50 to 55 percent of the bill during the winter months, so now is a good time to explore supplier pricing options,” Leger said.

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Customers who sign up for Vectren but do not choose a supplier are enrolled in standard choice options. Vectren has three standard suppliers including DTE Energy Supply, Direct Energy and Constellation Energy.

“Market rates for natural gas have been historically low in Ohio and are likely to remain low. As a result, consumers are unlikely to save money by switching from the Standard Choice Offer to a gas marketer or aggregator at this time,” according to the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel website.

The supplier is shown under the gas supplier details on each customer’s Vectren bill. Comparisons for price, contract length and type of rate — whether variable of fixed — can be found on Energy Choice Ohio’s apples to apples comparison website. Those who would rather have a fixed rate may find a marketer valuable even for an additional charge.

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Anyone thinking about switching should double check that their provider doesn’t have an early cancellation fee. Marketers that call or knock at the door may be offering a cheaper rate, but it may only last for a short period. Many want to see a gas bill, saying they’ll be able to determine if they could save money, but mainly to get the account number needed to switch providers.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio does not require Vectren and other Ohio natural gas deliverers to show consumers who have switched to a marketer the utilities price on their bills, said J.P Blackwood, a spokesperson for the Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel.

“These customers do not have the convenience of that information on their bills to show how the standard choice offer compares to the price they are paying,” he said. “Electric utility customers in Ohio are able to see the utility’s price to compare on their bills.”

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