Michigan heating bills likely lower this winter

Lauren Abdel-Razzaq
The Detroit News

Michigan residents can expect some relief from energy costs as they heat their homes this winter, according to a report published Monday by the Michigan Public Service Commission.

“We all paid a lot more last year regardless of the fuel source we used, because it was such a long and harsh winter,” said Judy Palnau, spokeswoman for the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, which oversees the commission.

“Assuming normal weather (this year), that alone will dramatically reduce usage from last heating season.”

Homeowners using propane or heating oil to stay warm this winter can expect to see between a 20 to 30 percent decrease in costs compared to last winter.”

The report says propane use during the heating season, which lasts from November to March, is expected to drop 8.5 percent from last year. Usage last year jumped 23 percent due to record cold temperatures.

Even though only about 9 percent of Michigan residents use propane to heat their homes, that’s still the most in the country, Palnau said. Shortages last winter created a crisis for many people, especially those in the Upper Peninsula.

This winter’s outlook is better, she said.

“Dealers are telling us people did heed the messages that went out in the summertime to get an early fill or lock in a price,” said Palnau.

And even though costs for natural gas are slightly higher than this time last year, reduced demand combined with more typical temperatures should result in a 9 percent decrease in costs. Demand this year is expected to fall 19 percent below average, the report said.

Electricity use in 2014 is expected to increase 0.8 percent over last year, up mostly because of an increase by industry. Residential use should remain flat, the report said. Since usage is expected to drop compared to last year, costs should also be lower.

During last year’s heating season, temperatures were about 15 percent colder than average; that was followed by a summer that was 17 percent cooler than average, the report said. In Michigan, 77 percent of households heat with natural gas; nearly 9 percent use propane; 9 percent use electricity; 4 percent use wood; and just over 1 percent use heating oil.

The estimates for Michigan heating costs were on par with a report from the U.S. Energy Department’s Energy Information Administration, released in early October. The government agency, using forecasts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, predicts the number of heating degree days — a measure of heating demand — will fall 12 percent this year.

Last year was a challenge for many homeowners as some of the coldest temperatures on record blasted the state.

The Heat and Warmth Fund (THAW), which assists homeowners who cannot pay their heating bills during the winter, saw a 90 percent increase of households in need last heating season, providing help to more than 26,000 residences. The agency said some families are still trying to pay off debts from last year.

Palnau said earlier this year, the state announced $89 million in aid available to those at risk of not being able to pay their heating bills. She said anyone who believes they will not be able to make their payments should call their utility or “211” to get on a payment plan or apply for energy assistance.

“Regardless of income, people can get on budget payment plans for natural gas and electricity, so you don’t have any surprises,” she said.

For more information on assistance and preparing for the winter heating season, visit www.michigan.gov/winterwise.

lrazzaq@detroitnews.com

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