Home heating costs expected to rise this winter

Oct. 29—MANKATO — Expected increases in winter heating costs have homeowners poised for a pricey season.

Winter heating costs are on the rise, with costs soaring and fuel supplies tightening.

"That's what we hear, that's what we see, and that's what we read," said Judd Schultz, housing services director with the Minnesota Valley Action Council. "The price of a barrel of oil has increased, and it affects our folks who heat with home heating oil."

Minnesota Valley Action Council is a nonprofit in Mankato that serves low-income households and has energy assistance as one of its myriad offerings. "It's going to be very difficult" for families this year, Schultz said, with some choosing between food and heating their home.

However, Ross Corson contends prices are so divergent it's hard to know what to expect this winter for home heating costs. Corson is a spokesperson for CenterPoint Energy in Mankato.

"There is still a fair amount of uncertainty about exactly what heating costs could be this winter," Corson said. "We do expect that heating with natural gas could be somewhat higher than last winter, but it really depends on how cold or mild the winter is and also on what happens with market prices for natural gas."

He said natural gas market prices traditionally rise in the winter with increased demand, but so far these prices are actually down from where they were during the summer. Natural gas production and supply seem to be rising to catch up with demand, Corson said, which is a trend that might help limit heating cost increases this winter.

"This is important because the price of natural gas itself can make up 60 percent or more of our typical residential customers' monthly bill in the wintertime," Corson said.

When it comes to heating with electricity, which runs heating appliances including gas furnaces, electric boilers and baseboard heaters, costs are reasonable, one expert said.

"On the electric side, we are hoping to maintain a flat rate this year," said Jon Wheelock, energy services manager for BENCO Electric Cooperative. "People do heat with electricity."

Lacey Nygard, media relations representative with Xcel Energy in the Twin Cities, said there is an increase in natural gas prices across the nation because of continuing supply and demand challenges in the global market.

She said she anticipates average Minnesota residential gas customers will see their monthly bills increase by about 10 percent compared to last winter.

Xcel serves more than 477,000 homes and businesses in Minnesota by providing natural gas.