A two-year holiday from high home heating costs is expected to end this winter.
Officials with Kansas Gas Service and Black Hills Energy say heating bills will be higher than the last two years, which featured unseasonably warm winters and historically low natural gas prices.
Kansas Gas Service, which has more than 167,000 customers in the Wichita area, expects customer bills to increase about 6 percent from November to May, said Dawn Ewing, communications manager.
The projection presumes a return to normal weather conditions over the period, Ewing said.
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AccuWeather.com forecasts cooler temperatures this winter than last, and more storms in the Plains states. The Commodity Weather Group, which forecasts weather patterns to predict energy demand, expects slightly cooler than normal temperatures nationally.
Black Hills Energy, with about 35,000 customers in the Wichita area, expects its gas prices to fall in line with the projected national average, which calls for a 10 to 12 percent increase from a year ago, said Gabe Schlickau, external affairs manager.
Because the last two years offered record lows for gas prices, that represents only a 1 to 4 percent increase over the previous four-year average, he said.
“The reason it’s drifting upward this year is highly due to the fact we had a cooler-than-average April and May, so more natural gas was drawn from storage fields nationally than anticipated by the industry,” he said. “Through the summer, it’s been trying to replace it, which means higher natural gas prices for the winter.”
The U.S. Energy Department forecasts that residential heating costs will rise for more than 90 percent of all U.S. homes this winter, with natural gas users facing the biggest percentage increase. Heating bills are expected to rise to an average of $679, the Energy Department said in its outlook for heating costs from October through March. That is about 13 percent higher than a year ago but still 4 percent below the average for the previous five winters.
Consumers who struggle with the higher energy bills can get help. The Kansas Corporation Commission will put its Cold Weather Rule in effect on Nov. 1. The rule, in force through March 31, prohibits utility companies from disconnecting a customer's natural gas or electric service when temperatures fall below 35 degrees. Utility companies must offer a 12-month payment plan to allow consumers to maintain or re-establish service.
The Kansas Department of Children and Family Services offers the Low Income Energy Assistance Program, a federally funded program that helps eligible households pay a portion of their energy costs by providing a one-time yearly benefit. To qualify, applicants must be living at the address, be personally responsible for paying heating costs at the residence and demonstrate a recent history of payments for heating energy. The combined gross income, before deductions, of all persons living at the address may not exceed 130 percent of the federal poverty level.
Applications for the program are available at Social and Rehabilitation Services offices, or can be requested by calling 1-800-432-0043.
Heating assistance also is available from the American Red Cross Midway Kansas Chapter and United Way 2-1-1.
Kansas Gas Service (www.kansasgasservice.com) and Black Hills Energy (www.blackhillsenergy.com) offer tips on their websites on how to conserve energy and save money on bills.
Kansas Gas Service also offers a home energy calculator that allows users to analyze their home energy use and compare its efficiency with different energy sources.
Black Hills Energy has an energy assistance program that sends matched customer and employee donations to the Salvation Army to be distributed to Black Hills customers who need help with their bills or emergency energy-related expenses.