National Fuel Gas Distribution Corporation (National Fuel or the Utility) is alerting its Western New York customers to anticipate higher bills this winter season as natural gas commodity prices have risen significantly following years of historic lows. Customers may also see an increase in gas usage this winter season as initial weather reports indicate a return-to-normal cold and snowy winter.
Across National Fuel’s Western New York service territory, approximately 90% of residents rely on natural gas to heat their homes and fuel their businesses. The estimated average residential customer’s winter heating bill – November through March – will total $714. This is a 43% increase compared to the last winter heating season bill when the typical customer paid $498 during a winter that was approximately 10% warmer than normal. This expected increase is due to rising natural gas commodity prices and a return to what forecasters believe will be a more normal winter for Western New York, which will result in higher usage for the average customer.
Market prices for natural gas supplies have increased significantly from the historic lows experienced in the winters of 2019-20 and 2020-21. New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) natural gas pricing for deliveries this upcoming winter recently topped $6 per MMBtu, more than doubling last winter when pricing averaged under $3 per MMBtu. This rise – driven by several economic factors, including global demand for domestically produced liquefied natural gas, disruptions in domestic production, and lower-than-average national storage inventory levels – has caused an increase in the cost of natural gas purchased and placed in storage by the Utility to meet customer heating needs for the upcoming winter. As required by state regulations, the Utility is required to purchase sufficient quantities of reliable, least-cost natural gas supplies to meet customers’ demands during a colder-than-normal winter. Natural gas supply costs are passed along to customers dollar-for-dollar with no mark-up or profit to National Fuel.
Despite this cost increase, National Fuel’s customers continue to benefit from their proximity and access to abundant, reliable, and lower-cost natural gas supplies produced in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. Overall, cumulative winter heating costs remain lower than what customers experienced during the winters of 2005 through 2009 – $900-$1,200 – before shale gas became widely available. Over the summer, National Fuel filled its storage inventories with regionally produced supplies when prices were lower. This coupled with the Utility’s diversified purchasing strategy is expected to help mitigate further prices increases during the upcoming winter as well as meet customer demand even during the most extreme weather conditions. With an underground delivery system that has proven to be storm-resistant, National Fuel seldom has weather- or storm-related interruptions and has a greater than 99.99% reliability ratio for its gas delivery.
Due to expected higher bills, National Fuel wants to remind customers that substantial financial assistance is now available. Recently, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced a one-time Home Energy Assistance Program Regular Arrears Supplement (HEAP RAS) benefit to pay up to $10,000 in gas and/or electric arrears for low-income households in New York state that are in collections or otherwise facing disconnection or termination of service. Administered through the local Departments of Social Services, the HEAP RAS benefit will pay the entire current balance, including arrears. The HEAP RAS grant will be in addition to the HEAP Regular benefit (up to $426) presently available. Emergency HEAP grants will be offered in January 2022 for up to $350. HEAP opened on Oct. 1, the earliest funding has been made available in decades. Since last Friday, thousands of National Fuel customers have secured grants totaling more than $2.48 million in HRAP RAS dollars. National Fuel’s customer assistance is available to help customers determine eligibility and navigate through the application process.
National Fuel has the following assistance programs available and encourages all customers struggling to make payments to call customer assistance today.
- The Neighbor For Neighbor Heat Fund offers grants up to $500 year-round. Qualified customers must be aged 55 years or older, disabled, currently receiving unemployment benefits, or are military veterans.
- Deferred Payment Agreement allows customers to negotiate a repayment plan based on individual financial circumstances.
- Special Protections is applicable for households where all residents are aged 62 years and up or are 18 years and younger, or are blind or disabled.
- The NYS Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) provides rent, utility, and home energy payment assistance for tenant households.
- Budget Plan billing allows winter payments to be spread out over the whole year, providing stable monthly bills.
Customer assistance is available weekdays from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. by contacting 1-800-365-3234.
“Natural gas is a commodity bought and sold in a national deregulated market and prices fluctuate daily due to supply and demand pressures,” said Karen L. Merkel, spokesperson for National Fuel. “Supply and demand forces have been affecting the market price with demand coming back faster than supply, forcing prices to go higher. While we can’t control the natural gas market or weather, National Fuel continues to execute a gas purchasing strategy on behalf of its customers to maintain affordability and ensure reliable service even in frigid winter weather. Customers can also take steps that can assist in conserving energy and saving money on their winter heating bills, as well as access several programs available to assist qualifying customers with home energy costs.”
National Fuel’s Conservation Incentive Program provides helpful tips to make a home more energy-efficient, thus using less energy to heat homes while cutting emissions in alignment with New York’s state energy goals. Since the energy efficiency program began in 2008, 179,984 residential rebates totaling $38,764,903 have been distributed to customers who have purchased high-efficiency natural gas appliances or equipment. Tips can be found at www.fuelingtomorrowtoday.com/energy-sustainability-tips/tips-for-the-home/. Some common guidelines include:
- Reduce air leaks and cut as much as 10% from your monthly energy bill by using caulk or weather-stripping to seal leaks around floors, walls, ceilings, ducts, doors, windows, fans/vents, electric outlets, fireplaces, and plumbing.
- Set thermostats between 65° and 70° during the winter and at 58° when away from the house for more than a few hours. By turning your thermostat back 10°-15° for eight straight hours, you can save about 5%-15% a year on your heating bill — a savings of as much as 1% for each degree.
- Turn down thermostats automatically without sacrificing comfort by installing a programmable thermostat.
- Close vents and doors in unused rooms. Close dampers on unused fireplaces. Warm air rises, so use registers to direct warm airflow across the floor.
- Set your water heater to 120° or the medium temperature setting. Drain a quart of water from the bottom of your water heating tank every three months to remove sediment that can hamper the efficiency of your unit.