Monday, June 16, 2008

Natural Gas Prices Up 57% in One Year

By KAREN YOUSO, Star Tribune
If you find gas prices at the pump a worry, get ready to wring your hands over natural gas, too. Like gasoline, its prices are going up -- way up.

Utilities are paying 57 percent more for natural gas than they did last year at this time, said Vincent Chavez with the Minnesota Office of Energy Security.

That's important because this is the time of year when utilities buy gas for use in December and January. It's a bellwether of home heating costs come winter.

Bills might not be exactly 57 percent higher than last year -- markets are complicated and they fluctuate over the year -- but the trend is not good.

In a hot summer, natural gas will be used to generate electricity to power air conditioning, pulling natural gas prices up -- along with your electric bill.

If it's a stormy season, with hurricanes hitting the Gulf states and disrupting supplies, prices could go higher.

On the other side, increased supplies, such as when out-of-commission pumps come back online, generally send prices down.

But that didn't happen when a pump came back earlier this year, Chavez said. Apparently, the market, distracted by record-breaking crude oil prices, isn't acting as it should.

In any case, state officials expect at least a double-digit increase in the cost of gas for home heating this winter. They urge consumers to start preparing now.

• Call your utility and set up a budget plan so bills are averaged over the year. You might be paying $200 to $300 now, when you're using little natural gas, Chavez said, but it'll be banked against the much higher bills come winter. Also ask about getting an energy audit to pinpoint ways to save energy in your home.

• Replace an older boiler or furnace with the highest-efficiency models available. You can get help doing that. Minnesota's Fix-up Fund is a statewide program that offers low-interest loans to families with incomes up to $93,000, according to Megan Ryan, communications director for Minnesota Housing. Go to and click the "homeowners" box in the upper left corner. Or call 651-296-7608 or 1-800-657-3769. Neighborhood Energy Connection offers even lower interest rates, said loan manager LeAnne Karris. Go to, or call 651-221-4462, ext. 132.

• Seal air leaks in your house and insulate the attic. Free publications from the state can help you do that safely and effectively. Go to www. Look for "Caulking and Weatherstripping," "Home Heating" and "Attic Bypass." Or call 651-296-5175 or 1-800-657-3710.

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