December 1, 2021

As temps fall, costs rise

Photo illustration/MetroCreative

Almost half of the homes in the country use natural gas for heat and could pay an average of $746 this winter, an increase of 30% over 2020, the Associated Press reported last week

Winter is coming, even if this past week has felt more like spring or summer. With winter comes cold.

This year, though, as temperatures drop, the price of heating sources is expected to increase — and could mean more Cortland County residents relying on local organizations for help.

The Associated Press reported last week that almost half of the homes in the country use natural gas for heat and could pay an average of $746 this winter, an increase of 30% over 2020.

Homes heated by electricity, about 41% in the United States, could see a smaller increase of 6% to $1,268 this winter and homes heated with oil, about 4% in the country, could see a 43% increase to $1,734.

The federal Energy Information Administration takes a more nuanced outlook. It expects the Midwest to bear the brunt of the increases, at least in natural gas prices. “The Northeast, where much of the country’s natural gas is now produced, will see a relatively smaller residential price increase of 14%,” it reports in its short-term energy outlook, issued earlier this month.

Still, that’s an increase. And if the winter is colder than predicted, the increase could be up to 15 percentage points more, the administration warns.

“With the cost increasing, my expectation is that more people will be reaching out to us,” said Capt. Rebecca March of the Salvation Army in Cortland.

During the winter of 2019-20, the organization opened a warming center where, when temperatures reached 32 degrees or below, people could get a meal, shower and stay the night at its Main Street location, March said.

During the center’s first year of operation, 51 people used it.

That number grew to 74 during the winter of 2020-21 and could grow again this winter.

The national average increase in price for natural gas is about what’s expected in the state, said Michael Jamison, the senior manager of communications for New York State Electric & Gas.

“At NYSEG, we’re expecting a 29% increase in what we’re forecasting year-over-year,” he said.

Jamison didn’t have a cost as the amount varies per home usage, but said the cost has been linked to the increase in demand of natural gas and not the supply to meet it.

An expectedly cold winter and a shift away from other heating sources are two factors behind the demand increase, he said.

To help maintain prices, NYSEG gets a little more than half of its natural gas supply during the summer when the demand is low, Jamison said.

Along with providing warming centers — which are expected to open around the first week of November or when temperatures drop below freezing — the Salvation Army, through United Way funding, provides assistance for people in paying for their utilities, March said.

She recommended that people call the Main Street center if they need help.

“As long as we have the funding, we can help,” she said.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (DN. Y.) said in a statement this week she is seeking assistance from the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

In the state alone, 1.2 million households collectively owe more than $1.5 billion in late energy bill payments, she said.