A surplus of natural gas and predictions for a mild winter could mean lower heating bills this winter, according to representatives of the two largest providers in the Wichita area.
"There is a big surplus of natural gas right now," said Curt Floerchinger, a spokesman for Black Hills Energy. "It's the law of supply and demand: a mild winter would definitely help to hold gas prices lower."
Late last month, gas prices on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell to an 11-month low, well below $4 per 1,000 cubic feet. That could save a typical consumer more than $100 this winter compared with last.
The price decline comes even after one of the hottest summers in decades has forced electric utilities to use more natural gas to run power plants to meet demand for air conditioning.
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The Climate Prediction Center's winter outlook calls for slightly above average temperatures and normal precipitation for Kansas, and AccuWeather predicts a warmer winter for Wichita than last year.
"We had a rough winter last year," said Dawn Ewing, a spokeswoman for Kansas Gas Service. "That would be welcome news."
KGS has 167,000 customers in the Wichita metropolitan area and 630,000 in Kansas. Black Hills has 30,000 customers in the Wichita area, and 109,000 in Kansas.
"Right now, prices are low," Floerchinger said. "Whether they will go up significantly or slightly will depend a lot, of course, on the weather — not just here but in the Gulf."
A hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico could cause problems if it shuts down gas production.
KGS representatives are being "cautiously optimistic" that prices will be favorable to consumers, Ewing said.
Natural gas consumption increases in the winter, she said. Even with favorable pricing, customers should conserve energy as much as possible, she said.
Black Hills officials will begin assessing the winter price outlook within the next week or two, Floerchinger said.
"Any publicly held utility does not mark up their gas prices," he said. "We pass our cost for the commodity directly on to our customer, without markup."