DAYTON — Steady natural gas prices should ensure winter heating costs remain affordable
The Energy Information Administration (EIA) today issued its winter outlook forecasting heating bills, on a national average, will increase modestly when compared to last winter. Higher expected winter heating expenditures are the result of both more heating demand because of relatively colder weather and, to a lesser extent, modestly higher fuel prices. According to EIA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) forecast anticipates that winter weather will be 13% colder than last winter and closer to the average of the previous 10 winters.
“The good news is that gas bills remain very affordable compared to historic highs we experienced prior to 2010; for example, 10 years ago, customers saw five-month bill totals around $750 compared to less than $450 last winter,” said Colleen Ryan, president of Vectren Energy Delivery of Ohio. “Last winter was mild — 15 percent warmer than normal in fact – and in the event we return to more normal winter weather, coupled with stable gas prices, bills will remain reasonably priced.”
The average Vectren customer paid $88 per month for natural gas service during the 2016-2017 heating season for a five-month total (November – March) or about $440. If gas prices indeed remain stable as expected, and the weather turns mild again, customers will receive similar bills this heating season due to stable natural gas prices.
“It’s important to note the customer’s natural gas supplier and corresponding price per unit of gas also influence bill amounts,” added Ryan. “Some customers prefer a fixed price that won’t fluctuate over the winter while others prefer to stay on a variable rate, which changes according to the natural gas market. The price of natural gas represents around 60 percent of the bill during the winter months, so now is a good time to explore supplier pricing options. Keep in mind – Vectren is not a natural gas supplier.”
The EIA continues to recognize natural gas as the most affordable heating source. In fact, Vectren Ohio gas customers who heated their homes with natural gas last year saved $1,000 compared to those who heat with propane and $225 to $855 compared to those who heat with an electric heat pump or electric furnace, respectively. As a reminder, bills will vary by customer depending on the size and age of the home, number of gas appliances, number in the household, thermostat settings and levels of insulation.
Vectren has in place a number of tools to help customers manage their energy bills.
•Choice program: Through Vectren’s natural gas Choice program, customers can choose a natural gas supplier that’s right for them. Competing suppliers offer more pricing options for consumers, such as locking in a fixed rate, which allows them to comparison shop for energy the way they do for other products and services.
Customers who do not choose a third party supplier are served by one of five default Standard Choice Offer suppliers at a variable rate. Visit www.vectrenchoice.com for a list of suppliers and up-to-date prices.
•Energy efficiency programs: Vectren offers appliance rebates and new energy-saving tools to help customers to lower their natural gas bills. All Ohio residential and small commercial natural gas customers are eligible. A conservation call center (866) 240-8476 is also available to help customers focus on conservation. Visit Vectren.com for a list of rebates and qualifying appliances.
•Budget Bill: Under this billing plan, a customer’s estimated costs for a year of gas service are spread in equal monthly bill amounts for the year. This leveling of monthly bill amounts reduces the need to pay the full amount in the winter and spreads some of those higher bill charges into the non-heating months.
Typically, amounts are adjusted annually for actual costs and the customer’s credit or amount due rolls into the next annual calculation. A mid-winter recalculation may occur for some customers if gas costs significantly change during the heating season. Customers can enroll for free at www.vectren.com or by calling 1-800-227-1376.
•Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP): State and federal utility assistance dollars are available for income-eligible customers. Households must fall within 175 percent of federal poverty guidelines, which would be about $43,050 for a family of four, to apply.
•Emergency Home Energy Assistance Program (E-HEAP): E-HEAP provides assistance once per heating season to eligible households that are disconnected or are threatened with disconnection. Households must fall within 175 percent of federal poverty guidelines to apply.
•Percentage of Income Payment Plan Plus (PIPP Plus): PIPP Plus calls for a qualified household to pay 6 percent of its monthly income for gas service throughout the year.
To be eligible for the PIPP Plus program, a customer must receive his or her primary or secondary heat source from a company regulated by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO), must have a total household income which is at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level, which would be about $36,900 for a family of four, and must apply for all energy assistance programs for which he or she is eligible.
•Home weatherization: Vectren’s home weatherization program helps qualifying Ohio customers implement energy efficiency improvements to their homes at no cost. Households must fall within 300 percent of federal poverty guidelines, which would be about $73,800 for a family of four, to apply. Call 1-800-617-2673 to learn more or visit www.cap-dayton.org.
•Share the Warmth: Those wanting to help the less fortunate with their energy bills can contribute to Share the Warmth, a nonprofit organization that assists income-eligible customers with home weatherization services. Each year, Vectren matches all public donations, up to an annual total of $225,000. Donations aid Vectren Ohio customers, may be tax-deductible, and can be sent to Share the Warmth, P.O. Box 931, Evansville, IN 47706-0931 or visit www.sharethewarmthinc.com.
Customers who pay their bills at Vectren.com may donate through a bill round-up feature. In 2016, over 100,000 customers used this feature to direct donations to Share the Warmth. This option contributed nearly $95,000, which was matched by Vectren.
“We know many still find themselves in need of financial assistance, and we encourage them to reach out to us before they get behind on payments” said Ryan. “Programs like HEAP and Vectren’s Home Weatherization are critical in helping customers manage costs and stay warm. We encourage customers to contact their local community action agency today and apply for financial and/or home weatherization assistance.”