With weather experts flummoxed about predicting just how much colder this winter will be than last year's record-breaking warm temperatures, preparing for a more normal winter for heating costs seems to be the safest course, according to one expert.
That's the advice of Eugene Guilford Jr., president and chief executive officer of the Independent Connecticut Petroleum Association. Taking advantage of energy conservation audits provided by utilities, following advice about insulation, maximizing efficiency of heating equipment and figuring out an energy budget for the winter ahead of time are four actions he recommends.
"Make sure your home is prepared for winter," he said. "If we have another winter like last winter, heating oil prices will be lower. But I can't tell you that. No one can."
In Connecticut, the average retail price for heating oil, used in about half of the state's households, is about $3.70 per gallon, according to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. That's about the same as this time last year, Guilford said.
Natural gas prices are also about the same as last year, said Mitch Gross, spokesman for Yankee Gas. The average customer who heats his home with natural gas will pay about $1,200 for the entire winter season, he said.
On Thursday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Center for Weather and Climate Prediction released its winter outlook. A warmer-than-average season is predicted for the West and Alaska, a colder than normal one for Florida, continuing drought conditions in the Midwest. But forecasters made no solid prediction for the Northeast. Because there is no El Niño trend this year to guide the forecast, this region of the country is pegged with an "equal chance" of having a winter that's at, above or below normal for average temperatures and precipitation.
The U.S. Energy Administration, however, said the Northeast will be about 2 percent warmer than the 30-year average, but 20 to 27 percent colder than last December, January and February. Average household heating costs for heating oil will be about 19 percent higher for this winter compared to last year, while homes that heat with natural gas can expect to spend 15 percent more. The increase reflects higher expected usage due to colder temperatures than a year ago, the agency said.
In its preparations for the coming winter, Bloomfield-based Operation Fuel is hoping to raise enough funds to double the amount of fuel assistance funds it distributes to needy households throughout the state this winter, said Pat Wrice, executive director of the nonprofit agency. Last year, the agency provided about $2.3 million in fuel assistance, and had a $316,000 surplus left over due to the warm winter. It used the surplus to help pay the summer utility bills of people on the verge of being shut off, she said.
"We're gearing up to help 6,000 households this year," she said. "It's safe to say the need is going to go up" compared to last year.
For information on energy conservation, visit:
www.icpa.org, click on "Consumer Info Oil Heat," then on "Energy Conservation at Home."