Originally created 11/16/02

Agency predicts high natural gas demand



Get out the caulking gun and the insulation.

In its latest report, the federal Energy Information Administration is forecasting a 25 percent increase in household natural gas expenditures this winter compared with last winter.

A colder-than-average October in the Northeast and Midwest "jump-started" demand and reduced natural gas storage levels, according to the agency, part of the U.S. Department of Energy.

But the forecasted increase is mild compared with previous years, and not everyone is convinced prices will rise unless it's an extraordinarily cold winter or a conflict with Iraq disrupts global crude oil supplies.

"Barring any problems, we think prices should be relatively stable," said Martin King, a research analyst with FirstEnergy Capital Corp. in Akron, Ohio.

Although most homes in the Northeast use fuel oil for heating, homes in the Southeast primarily use natural gas or electricity.

Electric rates in Georgia are regulated by the state, but natural gas prices have been deregulated for three years. Nine companies are approved to market gas, and each offers a variety of fixed- and variable-rate plans.

In September, Scana Energy became the state's "provider of last resort" for low-income, elderly and credit-risk consumers. The rates for people in those categories are regulated by the state.

Scana spokeswoman Simone Brands said the company doesn't do its own forecasting and relies on the Energy Department's reports as a guide.

"Unfortunately, we don't have a crystal ball," she said.

Rural residents not connected to natural gas systems tend to use propane, which is forecast to increase in cost by 19 percent this winter.

Scott Brockelmeyer, a spokesman for Ferrellgas, has advice for propane users with tanks less than 35 percent full.

"Call your propane company, whoever it is, and request a fill-up right away," he said. "I can't predict the weather, and I can't predict what will happen in the Middle East, but it's safe to say the price of propane will increase a month or two down the road."

HOME HEATING TIPS

Cut your winter heating costs by:

  • Tuning up your heating system. Contact a qualified service technician to make sure your system is operating properly and efficiently. Replace your furnace filter monthly.
  • Setting your thermostat between 68 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Consider installing a programmable thermostat to regulate your home's temperature when you are not there.
  • Insulating your home. Protect against drafts around windows and doors by caulking and weather stripping.
  • Lowering your water temperature. Reducing the water heater temperature from the standard 140 degrees to 130 degrees will cut the unit's energy costs by more than 10 percent.
  • Installing flow-restricting showerheads. This reduces hot water usage by up to 50 percent without affecting shower pressure.
  • Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3486 or dcline@augustachronicle.com.