Short-term energy forecast only expecting gas prices to 'creep' up about 10 percent
SIKESTON -- Area residents who heat their homes with natural gas can expect only a slight increase in heating bills as compared with last year.
According to a recent press release from Atmos Energy, natural gas prices have declined for the fourth consecutive month.
"Atmos Energy is also pleased to report that natural gas supplies are higher than normal, which will mean the continued reliable delivery of natural gas to keep people warm this winter," said Kevin Akers, president of Atmos Energy's Kentucky-Mid-States Division, in the press release.
The federal government's Energy Information Administration's short-term energy forecast is predicting the cost of gas, along with all energy prices, will "creep up probably by 10 percent" this winter, according to Steve Green, manager of public affairs for Atmos Energy. "I think that's a historical guesstimate based on what has happened in past winters."
Winter price increases in recent years have been as much as 60-70 percent, Green said. The actual increase this year will depend on the weather and natural gas consumption. "The severity of the winter can affect the cost of gas," he said. "There is better supply now, so hopefully that will help keep the price down."
A winter 4 percent colder than last year's is predicted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, according to the press release.
Green price "spikes" are mitigated by Atmos by purchasing some gas through long-term contracts in addition to buying at the current price.
Natural gas, which is purchased wholesale by Atmos, is not marked up by Atmos. "Atmos Energy makes no profit on the cost of gas charged to customers," Akers said in the press release. "Our earnings come from our delivery rates, which are regulated by state agencies and local governments."
Delivery rates, Green explained, "includes everything it costs for us to run our company -- all of our expenses plus profits for our stockholders."
Expenses include everything from gas pipes and office buildings to labor and accounting costs, according to Green.
Green said there are several things consumers who use natural gas primarily for heating can do to keep their winter gas bills from rising as much.
"If they go on budget heating, then their winter bills are lower," he said. While summer bills will be a bit higher, "it levels it out over the year better."
Green also reminded "low-income people that might qualify for energy assistance to apply and get that assistance."
An annual inspection by a local heating-air conditioning company can also ensure a furnace operates "as efficiently as possible," Green said.
Homeowners are also encouraged to check their furnace filter.
"A stopped-up filter will make a furnace run much longer than if it was a clean filter," Green said. "That's something that is really easy for most people to be able to watch and change. Most homeowners are able to change filters."
Green said customers who have questions or need additional information can call Atmos Energy toll free at 1-888-286-6700.
"Our call center is available 24 hours per day, seven days per week," he said.
The Sikeston Atmos office handles approximately 8,000 natural gas customers in Sikeston and the surrounding communities, according to Green.