October 7, 2014

Warmer Winter And Lower Heating Bills Predicted

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Transit worker clears snow off subway platform during the storm that hit the New York City area on January 21, 2014.

Patrick Cashin / MTA

Transit worker clears snow off subway platform during the storm that hit the New York City area on January 21, 2014.

Today, the US Energy Information Administration had some very good news for utility-bill-payers across the country:

“Less severe weather means lower expected household heating bills this winter.”

Warmer weather AND lower bills?? What a relief!  Last winter packed a powerful punch of record-breaking cold followed by sky-high heating bills.  According to the National Energy Assistance Directors Association, the average American’s utility bill went up 20% from the previous year, thanks to weather events like the polar vortex and heavy snow hitting places like Washington D.C. in March.  March!  And, if you were heating your home with propane, you had it the worst: The price of residential propane peaked at $4 per gallon last February, which is nearly double what it was in 2012.

But don’t swap your long-johns for swim trunks just yet.   Thomas Parish, head of University of Wyoming’s Atmospheric Science Department emphasized that this report was worded “relative to last year.”

“It doesn’t take much imagination [to say this winter will be warmer than last]! Last year was one of the coldest winters we’ve had in quite some time.  So I think from a climatological perspective, it is reasonable.  But the question is, compared to average, what are we in for? And that’s a little more difficult to determine.”

And Parish said there is a massive margin of error when it comes to predicting extreme weather events well in advance, like a polar vortex.

“There was a huge economic impact last year, so if anybody could have predicted it [the polar vortex], the market would have adjusted.  Nobody really saw that coming last year.”

Another factor the EIA report omits: Precipitation.  Anyone living in hard-hit cities like Chicago, Boston, or last winter’s Golden Snow Globe winner, Erie, Pennsylvania will likely tell you that snow played a serious role in their use of heat: From power outages to being snowed in at home (and using more heat) for days.

But, those who use propane for heating, mostly in the Midwest, are in luck regardless of the coming winter’s weather. With both propane and oil prices expected to fall, your winter utility bill will likely go down too.  According to the EIA’s ‘coldest’ scenario with temperatures 10% colder than average – propane-heated households will still spend 15% less and heating oil households will spend 5% less than last winter.