GREENSBURG – This year’s arctic frost has nipped at people’s noses — but it also is taking a bite out of their wallets.
The colder-than-normal temperatures, coupled with higher-than-average natural gas prices pushed up January heating bills by an average of $30, according to natural gas distributor Vectren.
Temperatures this winter have been 17 percent colder in the Midwest than last year, which has increased demand for — and prices of — propane and natural gas, according to the Energy Information Administration, the statistical arm of the U.S. Department of Energy.
Residential propane prices more than doubled between Dec. and and Jan. 27, reaching $4.20 per gallon, before falling to $3.83 on Feb. 3, the EIA said in its most recent report. The wholesale price of natural gas, meanwhile, jumped from $4.32 per million BTU on Jan. 2 to $5.66 on Jan. 27, before falling to $5.04 on Jan. 31.
EIA projected that prices for propane this winter will average $2.41 per gallon, or 39 percent higher than last year, while prices for natural gas will average $4.17 per million BTU this year, up about 12 percent from last year.
Vectren said that in January, the average customer paid about $120 for natural gas, up from $90 a year earlier — though bills vary depending on factors including the size of the home, insulation and thermostat setting.
February bills also are expected to exceed last bills from a year earlier. Vectren said that so far, February temps have been about 20 percent below normal. In October, the utility predicted that the average consumer’s bill for February would be about $115 if temperatures were normal. Vectren said consumers can expect to pay more than that, but did not yet have an exact projection.
Chase Kelly, Vectren’s director of corporate communications, said via email that she encouraged consumers who are struggling to pay their bills to contact the utility right away to figure out payment options, including paying the bill in smaller increments, without interest or fees.