National Fuel’s winter forecast: higher gas bills

AMHERST, N.Y. (WIVB) – National Fuel customers could be paying substantially more to heat their homes this winter, about 27% more than last winter, according to National Fuel’s annual winter heating season forecast.

The prediction takes into account two factors–the end of mild winters, in National Fuel’s service territory, covering Pennsylvania and Western New York, which has put less of a strain on our furnaces, and the commodity price of natural gas rising from historic lows, due to shrinking supplies.

Karen Merkel, National Fuel’s Director of Corporate Communications calls it a case of good news, bad news, “The last two winters have been unseasonably warm. It is hard to think about winter right now when it is 80 degrees in October, but eventually the winter weather will roll back in.”

For this year’s heating season, designated as the months of November through March, National Fuel is predicting a “normalized winter” will ring up an average gas bill of $588/month, which is about 27 percent higher than the actual $464 we paid last year, and more than 30 percent higher than the $381 we paid in actual heating costs two years ago.

If that jump makes it hard for customers to make ends meet, Merkel suggests “budget billing”, and if the household budget is still too tight, National Fuel has a number of programs available to avoid a shutoff notice.

“Everything from the federal government’s Home Energy Assistance Program, which opens every November, and continues generally through mid-March.”

Renee Siepierski, of Catholic Charities said, even though the previous winters were mild for most of us, plenty of Western New Yorkers were still struggling to pay their bills, “We had a gentleman in yesterday that had not had his gas turned on since May.”

Siepierski said the end of the heating season gives some of their clients a false sense of relief, “When the weather starts getting warmer, you have individuals that get behind on their bill and they figure because it is warm out, I can do without the gas. Now that it is starting to get cooler out at night, they are scrambling to try to get it turned on.”

Catholic Charities coordinates National Fuel’s “Neighbor for Neighbor” program, which can provide gas company customers with up to $500 toward their unpaid bills, in addition to federal HEAP assistance.

To qualify for Neighbor for Neighbor, recipients do have to meet income guidelines, and the government is expected to release the HEAP guidelines in a few weeks.

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