Consumer advocate: Prepare for higher heating prices this winter

Extra-high natural gas prices plus ongoing effects of last winter’s extraordinary price spike could combine for an expensive winter

Published October 18, 2021

St. Paul, MN – The Citizens Utility Board is warning Minnesotans that it could be an expensive heating season. Natural gas prices have risen dramatically nationwide. The monthly average price is roughly as high as it’s been at any point over the last seven years. The prices of propane and fuel oil are also surging, and Minnesotans should anticipate feeling it in their heating bills this winter.

On top of these already high prices, most Minnesota natural gas customers are facing substantial extra charges over the next two years. Gas providers paid extremely high prices to keep service flowing when Texas and much of the South froze last February, and those costs are now being passed onto Minnesotans. An average household may see an extra charge of around $5 – $10 per month over the next 12 months, and potentially higher monthly charges in late 2022 and 2023. (The exact amount will vary widely depending on how much gas a household uses and which utility provides its service.) Qualifying low-income customers will not be charged, thanks to advocacy by CUB and partners. CUB and others are fighting to lower these charges for all customers, advocating for the state Public Utilities Commission to prohibit utilities from charging customers for some of the costs.

“There is never a good time for high heating costs, but the combination of high prices, the extraordinary costs leftover from February’s price spike on natural gas, and the fact that so many people are still struggling in this economy will be a real strain on many families,” said Annie Levenson-Falk, CUB’s executive director. “Fortunately, there is assistance available.”

Here are some things that customers can do now to soften the blow of high heating costs:

●        Adjust your thermostat to a lower temperature (but not below 55 degrees when outdoor temps are below freezing)

●        Get your furnace or boiler serviced

●        Block drafts

●        Close fireplace dampers

●        And more

Free energy-saving improvements are available through the State’s Weatherization Assistance Program and through low-income conservation programs offered by utilities for households that qualify. Minnesotans can find their local Weatherization provider and more information at https://mn.gov/commerce/consumers/consumer-assistance/weatherization/ or 1-800-657-3710 and can contact their utility to find out about additional programs.

Energy Assistance is also available for qualifying households for the 2021-2022 season. Even if a household received assistance as recently as last month, they may apply again for a grant in the new program year. Minnesotans can find their local provider and more information at mn.gov/energyassistance or 1-800-657-3710.

Finally, customers who receive Energy Assistance may be eligible for reduced natural gas rates and to have monthly bills capped at an affordable amount through utilities’ Gas Affordability Programs. More information can be found at https://cubminnesota.org/shutoff/#affordprgm.

“This year’s prices underline some of the risks to consumers of reliance on fossil fuels,” said Levenson-Falk. Rising prices and the volatility of the markets have made for a difficult year for the majority of Minnesota households that heat with these fuels. It impacts electricity, too, as 20% of Minnesota’s electricity is generated from natural gas. “Moving our energy systems away from a reliance on fuels towards fuel-free renewable sources will help to stabilize household costs.”

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The Citizens Utility Board of Minnesota (CUB) is a nonprofit advocate for Minnesota’s utility consumers. CUB advocates for affordable and reliable utility service and clean energy for Minnesota residents and small businesses. For more information, see www.cubminnesota.org

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Author: Annie Levenson-Falk

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