At this time a year ago, consumers were bracing for what was expected to be a very expensive winter of heating bills. But by the end of December, a spate of widespread unseasonably warm weather led to a collapse in natural gas prices.
This year, consumers may be even more fortunate. Both the prices of natural gas and heating oil are starting the season down sharply from their recent highs.
Natural gas prices fell during the late winter and early spring and have not recovered. In spite of that, producers have been adding to supply in 2023, which could lead to still lower prices.
Since many electric utilities use natural gas, electricity costs could be lower this year. At least, they shouldn’t go up.
Oil prices generally are lower and that’s a break for consumers who heat with oil. Energy industry sources report there is weaker demand in the U.S. and other developed nations and that is pushing heating oil futures lower.
Of course, this favorable trend could change fairly quickly if the U.S. experiences a sudden and prolonged period of frigid weather. So it’s a good idea to have a strategy for keeping home heating costs as low as possible.
A good first step is to install a smart thermostat that can be programmed to raise and lower the temperature in the home at certain times. If everyone is away from home during the day there is no reason to keep the temperature at a comfortable level.
Set the temperature five or 10 degrees lower and program it to raise the temperature an hour before the first family member gets home. Some utility companies offer a rebate to customers who install a smart thermostat. And while these devices can save money, remember that they are connected to the internet and can be hacked if they are not protected by strong passwords.
Other inexpensive improvements that could help increase comfort and reduce costs is to make sure doors and windows aren’t leaking air to the outside. Caulk and weatherstripping doesn’t cost much and can seal up openings.
The U.S. government offers tax credits for some energy efficiency improvements. Beginning January 1, 2023, the Energy Efficient Home Improvement Credit became equal to the lesser of 30% of the sum of amounts paid for qualifying home improvements or the annual $1,200 credit limit. In addition, the annual dollar credit limits apply to specific items including:
Home energy audits: $150
Exterior doors: $250 per door (up to $500 per year)
Exterior windows and skylights, central A/C units, electric panels and related equipment, natural gas, propane and oil water heaters, furnaces or hot water boilers: $600
And of course, the tax credit for solar energy installations has been extended to 2034. The credit applies to solar installations as well as other clean energy sources.
Help from your utility provider
Consumers who struggle with heating bills this winter should turn to their utility provider for assistance. Nearly every company has a plan to help customers.
For example, Dominion Energy Virginia’s EnergyShare program offers up to $600 in bill payment assistance from October 1 through May 31. The program is not income-based. Anyone needing help to pay heating bills may qualify for assistance. Individuals 60 and older, military veterans and people with disabilities may be eligible for additional assistance.
Duke Energy Indiana is making more than $425,000 in financial aid available to eligible customers through the company’s Share the Light Fund.
“The assistance we offer through the Share the Light Fund will help community members who may struggle to pay their electric bills as the temperatures dip,” said Stan Pinegar, president of Duke Energy Indiana.
The company said customers with past-due utility bills or in need of ongoing assistance can take advantage of these funds to get the help they need.