Here’s what to expect with your home heating prices this winter

Natural gas prices are expected to remain steady this winter season, keeping home heating prices similar to last year.

That’s good news as temperatures are expected to dip into the 30s next week and will mean homeowners begin turning on their furnaces.

Between November 2018 and March, the five months considered the winter heating season,the average residential customer purchasing naural gas from Duke Energy Ohio paid $482, or an average of $96 per month, according to Sally Thelen, spokeswoman for Duke Energy.

“Assuming normal weather, we expect customers to see similar bill amounts this coming winter heating season thanks to continued low, abundant and stable natural gas prices,” Thelen said.

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Natural gas, which is used to heat nearly half of all U.S. households, was $2.37 per billion British thermal units, or BTU, last week. During the same period last year, the cost was around $3.13, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Prices reached as high as $7.13 during the Great Recession in 2008.

“Our biggest drivers are any disruptions in service and reserve and anticipation of weather,” said Bob Wilkens, an associate dean of research and innovation at University of Dayton, who spent two decades working at Shell Oil Company. “Our production capability has been expanding with fracking throughout the region, so we’ve been able to produce natural gas in sizable volumes here in Ohio.”

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Storm Center 7 Meteorologist McCall Vrydaghs said there aren’t expected to be any global weather events that would impact area natural gas prices. Ohio is not expecting an El Niño or La Niña event this year, which typically mean either warmer than usual or with more snow than usual, she said.

“It will probably come around as an average winter for us in the Miami Valley. We don’t have anything else that’s driving the winter that would make us colder than normal or warmer than normal,” Vrydaghs said.

Duke Energy is the primary deliverer of natural gas in Butler County and Greater Cincinnati, but electric-only, not natural gas, is the primary heating source.

“Thirty-five to 45 percent of Duke Energy Ohio’s residential bill is natural gas cost,” Thelen said.

Unlike the other major gas utilities in Ohio, Duke Energy Ohio is still a supplier of natural gas, however, customers can chose to purchase their gas from alternative suppliers, she said.

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Duke Energy Ohio currently supplies about 40 percent of the natural gas for residential customers, Thelen said.

It does not have a standard choice option. Customer who do not chose an alternate supplier purchase gas from Duke Energy Ohio at its cost through the Gas Cost Recovery Rate, Thelen said. Duke Energy Ohio is currently purchasing almost all of its supply from United Energy Trading.

“Market rates for natural gas have been historically low in Ohio and are likely to remain low. As a result, consumers are unlikely to save money by switching from the Standard Choice Offer to a gas marketer or aggregator at this time,” according to the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel website.

For customers who have opted to purchase natural gas from an alternative supplier, the supplier is shown under the gas supplier details of the customer’s Duke Energy bill.

Comparisons for price, contract length and type of rate — whether variable of fixed — can be found on Energy Choice Ohio's apples to apples comparison website. Those who would rather have a fixed rate may find a marketer valuable even for an additional charge.

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Anyone thinking about switching should double check that their provider doesn’t have an early cancellation fee. Marketers that call or knock at the door may be offering a cheaper rate, but it may only last for a short period. Many want to see a gas bill, saying they’ll be able to determine if they could save money, but mainly to get the account number needed to switch providers.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio does not require Duke Energy and other Ohio natural gas deliverers to show consumers who have switched to a marketer from the standard option price on their bills, said J.P. Blackwood, a spokesperson for the Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel.

“These customers do not have the convenience of that information on their bills to show how the standard choice offer compares to the price they are paying,” he said. “Electric utility customers in Ohio are able to see the utility’s price to compare on their bills.”

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