High Natural Gas Bills? Check Out Your Appliance Costs

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If your natural gas bill is high, there are several things you can do to help control your energy costs, including simply using less natural gas. One of the ways you can use less natural gas is to replace old and inefficient appliances with new, more efficient appliances. This guide will show you how much energy common natural gas appliances consume over the course of a year and how much, on average, it costs to operate them. You can use this information to make informed decisions about upgrading the natural gas appliances in your home that have the greatest effect on your natural gas bill.

ApplianceTypical Consumption
Per Year (therms)*
Cost Per
Month**
Cost Per
Year**

Furnace

489 th

$43

$518

Pool heater

360 th

$32

$381

Outdoor yard light

302 th

$27

$320

Water heater

258 th

$23

$273

Gas fireplace with gas logs

72 th

$6.33

$76

Clothes dryer

69 th

$6.08

$73

Free standing range

40 th

$3.50

$42

Outdoor grill

15 th

$1.32

$16

A few Notes on Appliance Costs

Furnace, Pool Heater and Gas Fireplace

The average gas costs associated with a furnace, pool heater and gas fireplace are skewed somewhat heavily toward the cold winter months, resulting in high usage for a certain period of time followed by little usage the rest of the year. Therefore, while we’ve provided average monthly costs for using these appliances, these numbers will almost certainly be much higher during the winter and much lower during the summer, depending on your climate. The important figure to note regarding these appliances is average cost per year.

Furnace numbers are based on an average gas furnace with a 92 percent efficiency rating. Pool heater numbers are based on using 300,000 Btu/hr over 120 hours of annual operation. Gas fireplace numbers are based on burning gas logs (as opposed to using a gas-starter fireplace) at 60,000 Btu/hr over 120 hours of annual operation.

To increase the energy efficiency of your furnace without investing in a new furnace, try changing out the furnace filters on a regular basis. You can save money when operating your furnace setting back your programmable thermostat least 10 degrees for eight hours a day.

To save money on pool heating costs, consider using a pool cover to prevent heat from escaping or turning down the pool temperature a degree or two (each degree of setback will save 10 to 30 percent off pool heating costs).

Outdoor Yard Light

Outdoor yard light numbers are based on using a triple mantle gas light that burns 3.451 Btu/hr and operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Water Heater

Water heater numbers are based on 40-gallon models with a 0.63 EF rating using 40,000 Btu/hr and based on the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) national average of 64 gallons of hot water use daily.

To save money on water heating, the DOE suggests shortening your showers and washing your clothes in cold water. Besides simply using less hot water, you can also set your water heater as low as 120 degrees. Every 10 degree reduction in water heater temperature can save three to five percent in monthly energy costs, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Other energy-saving options include insulating your water heater tank and hot water pipes and installing heat traps on your water heater tank.

Clothes Dryer

Clothes dryer numbers are based on a 5.8 cu. ft. model using 20,000 Btu/hr over 275 hours of annual operation. The most direct way to save money when it comes to drying clothes is to hang your clothes to air dry, which will also increase the lifespan of your clothes. Other energy-saving options include using moisture sensors instead of timers, cleaning the lint filter after every load and drying towels and heavy cottons in a separate load from lighter-weight clothes.

* Therm (th) is a measure of natural gas equivalent to 100,000 British thermal units (Btu) or one CCF. You may be billed for natural gas by the MCF (thousands of cubic feet), CCF (hundreds of cubic feet), or therm, depending on how your natural gas delivery utility records your natural gas use.

** Based on an average monthly gas price of $1.059 per therm.

Sources

Metropolitan Utilities District, “Annual Operating Costs for Gas Appliances,” April 2010.

U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, “Energy-Efficient Water Heating.”

U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, “How to Read Residential Electric and Natural Gas Meters.”

U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, “Laundry.”

U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, “Managing Swimming Pool Water Temperature for Energy Efficiency.”

U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, “Swimming Pool Covers.”

U.S. Energy Information Administration, “Natural Gas Prices (Release Date: Jan. 30, 2012).”

Ohio Natural Gas Utility Changing Service Plans in 2012

Monday March 12, 2012
Posted at 10:10

Ohio’s largest natural gas utility will change the way it prices natural gas for some customers starting this year.

Columbia Gas of Ohio said in an email to suppliers that natural gas customers who have not selected an alternative supplier through the utility’s Customer CHOICE Program by April 1 will have their natural gas plan changed from the utility’s Standard Service Offer (SSO) to its new Standard Choice Offer (SCO).

As choice and competition were made available to Ohio’s natural gas industry, public utility monopolies like Columbia Gas were broken up and became distribution companies — responsible for distributing natural gas to customers in their service territories and maintaining natural gas pipes and related equipment. — Meanwhile, independent alternative natural gas companies, called CHOICE suppliers, were allowed to enter the area and sell gas directly to natural gas customers. As a result, Ohio natural gas customers have the power to choose whether to buy natural gas from a CHOICE supplier, at a price set by that supplier, or from the utility, at a price set by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO), the state’s utility regulator.

Previously, Columbia Gas’ CHOICE-eligible customers who were free to buy their natural gas from an alternative natural gas supplier but who chose to buy their gas from the utility did so under the utility’s SSO plan, which also served customers who were ineligible for CHOICE. Now, however, the utility is making a distinction between the two types of customers: the SCO plan will be for CHOICE-eligible customers who continue to buy natural gas from the utility instead of shopping for an alternative supplier, while customers who are ineligible for CHOICE will remain with the SSO plan. Customers redefined under the new SCO plan will notice the change beginning April 1, but will not be required to shop for a supplier, enroll in the plan or opt out of anything.

The main difference, said Columbia Gas, was that CHOICE-eligible customers who have not chosen an alternative supplier will see the term “SCO” on their bills, along with the name of the supplier that the utility has contracted with to supply them.

Although the name of the SCO supplier may vary from customer to customer, Columbia Gas said that all SCO customers will pay the same monthly price for natural gas, which will be set by an auction held in February, 2012. Columbia Gas said that the auction, which will be supervised by the PUCO, will be similar to the one it holds for its SSO plan. The auction will establish the utility’s SCO Retail Price Adjustment for the entire year, which will run from April 1, 2012 to March 31, 2013. The SCO will be a variable rate plan, which means the monthly price of gas for SCO customers will change based on NYMEX exchange prices for natural gas, plus the utility’s SCO Retail Price Adjustment that it secured at auction in February.

According to Columbia Gas, “CHOICE-eligible SCO customers will enjoy all the supply options that they had as an SSO customer. That means they may select a CHOICE supplier to supply their gas, or they may participate in a governmental aggregation

program if their community offers one. Similarly, CHOICE customers will be free to return to Columbia’s regulated SCO rate if they so choose.”

The utility noted that customers enrolled in its Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP) program, customers in transition and customers who otherwise do not qualify under the CHOICE program will be served by a third plan called the Default Sales Service (DSS) plan. Although DSS customers will be supplied with natural gas by SCO suppliers under an agreement with the utility, DSS customers will not see the name of the SCO supplier on their bills.

Sources

“COH Choice Supplier Communication Concerning Columbia SCO,” Columbia Gas email to suppliers, Nov. 9, 2011.

Natural Gas Hits Lowest Price in a Decade

Friday March 9, 2012
Posted at 09:01

Natural gas prices dropping

A combination of factors has pushed natural gas prices to their lowest levels in a decade, marking a prime opportunity for natural gas customers to save money by locking in low, fixed-price plans.

On Feb. 1, the price of a million cubic feet of natural gas fell to $2.38 on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX), the lowest since falling to $2.28 in February, 2002. The all-time record low was $1.05 in February, 1992.

Industry experts credit the fall of natural gas prices to several factors, including mild winter temperatures, record natural gas storage and record gas production caused primarily by unlocking the natural gas contained in the Marcellus shale region over the last five years. According to a recent report, the Marcellus shale region, mostly in western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio, is so plentiful that by itself it could supply the United States with natural gas for 18 years. Other increases in production have been attributed to the recovery of natural gas at older and previously tapped-out wells in areas of Texas and North Dakota.

Although dropping prices will hurt natural gas producers, residential and commercial natural gas customers will come away big-time winners.

“The fact of the matter is that now would be a great time for residential and commercial customers to lock in low, fixed-price plans with a retail natural gas supplier no matter where they live,” said Jim Head, Spark Energy Vice President of Marketing and Sales. “People have a tendency to try and lock in prices when energy prices are on the rise, out of fear that they’ll rise further, but people should also take a look at what their fixed-price plan options are when energy prices fall. With natural gas prices at the lowest level in a decade, customers could gain significant benefits from locking in prices now with fixed-price plans that will get them through the rest of this heating season and next winter, as well.”

Sources

Mix of Factors Could Further Cut Natural Gas Costs,” The Toledo Blade, Feb. 5, 2012.

Chicago Taxi Company Gives the Green Light for a Green Test from Ford

Wednesday February 29, 2012
Posted at 07:34

Chicagoans who would prefer to scoot around town in the back seat of an environmentally-friendly taxi may want to take a peek at one company’s decision to test a dozen vehicles that have been converted to run on compressed natural gas (CNG).

In March, Ford Motor Co. will deliver 12 converted Transit Connect commercial vans to Taxi Medallion Management. The company will integrate the cars into its fleet of taxis, which include gas-guzzling Crown Victoria sedans, and test them over a period of time to determine if the company wants to bring in more CNG vehicles.

Not only will the CNG Transit Connects emit 30 percent to 40 percent less greenhouse gasses, but the cars will be less expensive to refuel.

Natural gas vehicles are being slowly phased in and tested in large cities around the country with infrastructures that support natural gas refueling, including Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Philadelphia.

Sources

Truck Trend, “Ford Introducing 12 CNG Transit Connect Taxis to Chicago.”

Important Contact Information and Resources for Ohio Natural Gas Customers

Thursday January 12, 2012
Posted at 11:49

If you live in Ohio, natural gas is delivered to your home by one of four natural gas utilities: Columbia Gas of Ohio, Dominion East Ohio, Duke Energy Ohio or Vectren Energy Delivery of Ohio. If you’re like many residents in Ohio, you also have the power to choose which company you buy your natural gas from.

Here is some helpful information that will come in handy when contacting your Ohio natural gas utility, reporting emergencies, shopping around for a natural gas supplier, and for general information, like knowing your rights as a natural gas customer and understanding how to read your natural gas bill.

Ohio Natural Gas Utility Contact Information

Columbia Gas of Ohio
www.columbiagasohio.com
800.344.4077
For emergency service: 800.344.4077

Dominion East Ohio
www.dom.com
800.950.7989
For emergency service: 877.542.2630

Duke Energy Ohio
www.duke-energy.com/ohres
800.544.6900
For emergency service: 800.634.4300

Vectren Energy Delivery of Ohio
www.vectren.com
800.227.1376
For emergency service: 800.227.1376

How to Choose a Natural Gas Supplier if You Have Energy Choice

Choosing a natural gas supplier

Natural Gas Apples to Apples Comparison Charts:

General Consumer Information

Understanding your natural gas bill

Natural gas customers’ Bill of Rights

Natural Gas Service Area Maps:

Natural Gas Futures Climbing from Year-Low Price as Winter Approaches

Thursday November 10, 2011
Posted at 11:18

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Natural gas futures continued their steady climb from year-low prices in October during trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange, where natural gas for November delivery increased 6.9 cents, or 2 percent, to $3.6000 a million British thermal units.

Analysts attribute rising gas futures to the anticipation of rising demand this winter. Futures prices were recently down 28 percent from the 2011 calendar high but market watchers say the price has bottomed out and that a bump should be expected, despite a recent U.S. Department of Energy report that found natural gas inventories to be much higher than expected. Analysts say that, regardless of inventory storage, the coming winter months should drive prices higher.

Consensus is building among market watchers that traders shorted the market — when futures prices dove 3.5 percent — in anticipation of a bearish report a day before it was released. Once the numbers were published, insiders say, a second wave of selling hit the market and forced prices down.

Analysts say that futures prices will continue to rise and that the time for shorting the market may be over.

“The downside could be running out of steam,” TD Securities said.

Sources

US GAS: Gas Futures Continue Recovery From 2011 Lows,” The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 14, 2011.

Pennsylvania Gov. Proposes Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Drilling Regulations

Monday November 7, 2011
Posted at 15:35

Shale natural gas drilling uses a controversial extraction method known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to get at massive stores of natural gas. Fracking can offer huge economic benefits and help the U.S. meet its future energy goals but has been criticized for potentially producing severe public health risks. On Monday, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett announced his plan for resolving the risks and rewards of shale natural gas drilling in his state.

Corbett’s proposal calls for drilling companies to pay a per-well fee of $40,000 to help recoup costs associated with drilling, offset the wear and tear on transportation infrastructure caused by the drilling industry and fund enforcement of tougher state environmental standards by individual counties that will hold drilling companies accountable for environmental damage.

Corbett’s proposal was highly anticipated in Pennsylvania, where fracking is a hot topic. The state sits on the Marcellus Shale, the nation’s largest gas reserve. While expanding drilling at the shale could help provide an economic boost to the state’s sagging economy, residents, environmentalists and lawmakers are concerned about the negative effects that unregulated drilling may have on public health and infrastructure, such as roads and bridges.

“Affordable, reliable energy allows companies to grow,” Corbett said at a recent event in Pittsburgh, “but how do we get there? We have to make sure that we do this right, from the very beginning.”

Lawmakers Disagree About Who Should Benefit from Shale Drilling Regulations

Corbett said his plan provides the “smart, sound, evenhanded, level-playing-field regulation and legislation” necessary to achieve a balance between business interests and consumer protections with regard to shale natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania.

Corbett’s plan allows counties to set a fee of no more than $40,000 per well that would be reduced over time until, after 10 years, it would be eliminated. Three-quarters of the money would remain in the counties where the wells are drilled and go towards industry regulation, infrastructure improvements and social services such as affordable housing.

The remaining money would fund state programs, such as gas-related environmental protection, infrastructure improvements, heath studies related to drilling, pipeline safety and emergency response. According to Corbett, his plan would generate $120 million in the first year and could increase to $195 million within six years as more wells are drilled.

However, Senate Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, a Republican from Jefferson, said the proposal would unlikely be approved in its current form because it too narrowly benefitted the roughly 40 counties were shale natural gas drilling occurs. Scarnati has pushed his own legislative proposal that calls for an impact fee that not only assists communities affected by drilling but also funds related environmental programs on a statewide level rather than through the efforts of individual counties. Scarnati has estimated that his plan would generate $200 million a year for the state starting as early as 2012.

Lawmakers and Environmental Advocates Say Regulations Don’t Go Far Enough

Doug Hill, executive director of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, said he was pleased that Corbett’s plan would reimburse counties for the activities of drilling companies. However, Hill expressed concerns that the plan would place undue administrative burdens on counties responsible for collecting and distributing the fee revenue while creating potential “border wars” between counties that assessed a per-well fee and those that did not.

Other lawmakers say Corbett’s proposal doesn’t go far enough. Former Gov. Ed Rendell said the fees levied against drilling companies wouldn’t generate enough revenue to take care of the counties and help the environment. Meanwhile, some Republican lawmakers, complaining that Corbett’s plan doesn’t go far enough, are proposing an outright shale tax. Rep. Gene DiGirolamo and House Rep. Tom Murt, both Republicans, have introduced a bill that would impose a 4.9 percent extraction tax on drillers that’s estimated to generate as much as $562 million.

For their part, environmentalists have a mixed view of Corbett’s proposal. Activists claim that the plan does a good job of increasing setbacks for wells near water supplies, setting aside funds for plugging abandoned wells and doubling civil penalties against companies that break the law, but doesn’t provide the money needed to offset the damage that fracking does to the environment. According to Maya van Rossum, head of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Corbett’s impact fee represents a “drop in the bucket.”

The Marcellus Shale Coalition, an organization that represents 244 gas companies, said Corbett’s plan would allow the fast-growing shale drilling industry to flourish. Coalition president Katherine Klaber said it would allow Pennsylvanians to reap the “countless benefits” of shale drilling, including lower energy costs, economic revival and the “environmental advantages of increased natural gas use.”

Sources

Corbett Offers Fee Proposal for Gas Drilling,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, Oct. 4, 2011.

What Are Dominion East Ohio’s Standard Choice and Standard Service Offers?

Thursday November 3, 2011
Posted at 16:31

If you live in Dominion East Ohio’s service territory, you may be able to participate in the Energy Choice program, which allows you to choose which company you buy your natural gas from. Other customers in the gas company’s service territory may not be eligible for Energy Choice. Regardless, Dominion East will deliver natural gas to your home, even if you buy it from someone else, and will charge you a separate distribution rate for natural gas delivery that is unrelated to the price you pay for natural gas or who you buy it from.

If you can participate in the Energy Choice program and still choose to buy your natural gas from Dominion East, the utility will bill you for the gas you use, called the supply charge, under its Standard Choice Offer (SCO) rate.

If you participate in the Energy Choice Program and choose to buy your natural gas from an another certified natural gas supplier, the utility will still be responsible for sending you your bill, but your supply charge will be based on the rate you’ve signed up for with your new certified gas supplier.

If you’re not eligible to participate in Energy Choice, or are a Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP) customer with Dominion East, the utility will bill you for the gas you use under its Standard Service Offer (SSO) rate.

Both the SCO and SSO rates are set each February as the result of two auctions to secure natural gas supplies for customers who don’t participate in Energy Choice. SCO customers will be assigned a natural gas supplier every April. Although the supplier may change, and a different name may appear on your bill, you’ll pay the same monthly rate as all other SCO customers.

Both SCO and SSO customers pay variable rates. Their rates are identical and change each month based on the price of natural gas at the end of the month on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX), which is a sort of stock market for energy commodities like electricity and natural gas. Tacked on to this price, called the NYMEX month-end settlement price, is a retail price adjustment, or fee, that is determined during the auctions in February. Additionally, SCO customers will pay a county sales tax and SSO customers will pay an excise tax.

An SCO customer may choose to buy natural gas from an alternative supplier at any time, after which they’ll be referred to as an Energy Choice customer. Energy Choice customers will pay a rate for natural gas based on the plan they sign up for with their new supplier. If an Energy Choice customer’s contract expires or their supplier goes out of business — and the customer does not choose a new supplier — Dominion East will either assign the customer to an alternative supplier at the supplier’s Monthly Variable Rate or, if the customer prefers, place the customer on the utility’s SCO rate.

Sources

Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, “Dominion East Ohio Standard Choice Offer and Standard Service Offer.”

Natural Gas Futures Fall to Lowest Level in Nearly a Year

Monday October 17, 2011
Posted at 09:45

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A forecast of cooling temperatures is cooling off natural gas futures, which recently fell to their lowest level in almost 11 months.

Commodity Weather Group LLC, a data analytics company based in Bethesda, Md., that provides short- and long-term weather analysis for energy futures, recently predicted cooler-than-normal temperatures across the U.S. Midwest, causing a drop in demand for the power-plant fuel.

Last month, natural gas for October delivery slipped 0.4 cents on the New York Mercantile Exchange to $3.701 per million British thermal units (Btu), the lowest settlement price since Oct. 27, 2010.

The spread between natural gas futures for delivery in Oct. 2011 and Jan. 2012 shrunk 2 cents to 45.8 cents. November $3.85 calls — bets that natural gas prices will rise — decreased 0.3 cents to 0.6 cents per million Btu on a volume of 200 lots, yet were the most active options in electronic trading.

Overall, natural gas fell 2.8 percent last week and, according to seven of 13 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg Businessweek, could fall even more by the end of this week if stockpiles remain sufficient.

According to Matt Rogers, President of Commodity Weather Group, the weather pattern for the U.S. and Southern Canada is “fairly benign” and is typical of weather patterns that result in reduced cooling demand by energy utility customers. In a note to clients, Rogers said that the eastern U.S. will see normal temperatures until Oct. 2.

A report by the U.S. Department of Energy released Sept. 22 showed that natural gas supplies for the week ending Sept. 16 increased 89 billion cubic feet — above the five-year average gain of 72 billion cubic feet — to 3.201 trillion cubic feet. The report also found that an existing shortfall to five-year average natural gas inventory levels fell to 1.1 percent from 1.6 percent the previous week.

The Energy Department’s monthly Short-Term Energy Outlook, released Sept. 7, states that marketed natural gas production will average 65.70 billion cubic feet a day this year, up from 61.83 billion in 2010.

According to Baker Hughes Inc., an oilfield services company based in Houston, Texas, the number of U.S. natural gas drilling rigs remained steady last week at 912.

Sources

Natural Gas Falls for Fourth Day on Cooler Weather in Midwest,” Bloomberg Businessweek, Sept. 23, 2011.