Prepare for higher heating costs this winter

Published on October 18, 2021

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.

The industry blames increasing demand as economies rebound along with a lack of supply worldwide for rising natural gas prices. Prices in Europe and Asia are nearly five times as high as in the US, and US producers are exporting about as much gas as they are capable of (about 10% of the gas produced in the US). That, in turn, makes less natural gas available for US purchasers and drives the price up here at home.

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 you use and which utility provides your 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.

Here are some things you can now do 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. There is a lot of available funding in Weatherization this year, so don’t hesitate to apply.

Energy Assistance is also available for qualifying households for the 2021-2022 season. Even if you received assistance as recently as last month, you can apply again for a grant in the new program year.

Finally, if you receive Energy Assistance, you may be eligible for a reduced natural gas rate and to have your monthly bills capped at an affordable amount through your utility’s Gas Affordability Program.

This year’s prices underline some of the risks to consumers of reliance on fossil fuels. 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 away from reliance on fuels towards fuel-free renewable sources should help to stabilize household costs.

As always, CUB’s staff is here to help with any questions you might have. Contact us any time: 651-300-4701 ext. 2 for Carmen Carruthers, or info@cubminnesota.org.

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Author: Annie Levenson-Falk

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