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Natural gas prices may cool off this year

Wednesday, October 12, 2011
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Kathleen Sullivan of Niskayuna Road in Niskayuna stands Tuesday with her old oil furnace at left and a more energy efficient gas furnace on the right.
Kathleen Sullivan of Niskayuna Road in Niskayuna stands Tuesday with her old oil furnace at left and a more energy efficient gas furnace on the right.

— National Grid representatives are predicting a decrease in this winter’s heating costs for upstate New York customers, based on current market rates of natural gas.

Consumers can expect up to an 8 percent reduction in their heating bill for New York’s five coldest months, said National Grid Director of Customer and Community Management Bill Flaherty at Tuesday’s press conference in Niskayuna.

According to National Grid, the cost of a typical household’s natural gas usage from November to March will be reduced by about $61 from last year’s bills.

“It’s important to note that customer bills are impacted by weather conditions as well,” said Flaherty. “In the end, market prices, a customer’s natural gas usage, and the weather will determine actual costs.”

At a glance

Some ways to reduce energy costs:

• Install an automatic thermostat that lowers the temperature when the home is unoccupied. For every one degree you set your thermostat back, customers can save 1 to 3 percent on annual heating bills.

• Invest in a high-efficiency furnace and hot water heater.

• Make sure attics, walls and foundations are well insulated.

• Make sure gaps around doors, windows and foundations are well sealed.

• Reduce water usage when showering and washing clothes and dishes.

Source: National Grid

Last spring, the Obama administration cut funds for the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program by more than $2 billion, based on projections that heating costs would be lower in the months ahead.

Last year, New York was allocated $495 million in LIHEAP funding. This year, the state could potentially receive $152 million less.

According to U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a bill moving through the House of Representatives would change the formula used to allocate LIHEAP money to the states. The bill in the House gives New York $343 million in funding, while the one in the Senate provides the state with $428 million. Schumer is fighting to get the Senate version passed, but either way all states will lose some LIHEAP funding.

National Grid spokesman Patrick Stella said the company does not offer subsidies to lower-income households, but it does work with customers to set up budget billing so their bill is always the same. National Grid also has a payment program and a consumer advocate who can help customers find local programs to reduce their heating costs.

“We strongly urge customers who are being challenged by paying their National Grid bill to contact us as early as possible,” said National Grid Commercial Leader Laurie Poltynski. “Our ability to work with customers who are struggling with their bills is greater the sooner we hear of the problem.”

Poltynski said although federal funding for low-income families has decreased, customers who believe they are eligible for assistance should still apply by visiting their county’s Office of the Aging or Department of Social Services.

The news conference was held at the home of Niskayuna residents Kathleen Sullivan and Peter Contompasis. The couple was chosen because they are in the process of switching from oil to natural gas to heat their home.

Sullivan said she chose to convert to natural gas this summer after calling National Grid about extending the gas main on Niskayuna Road to her home. National Grid will pay to extend the service, while Sullivan and Contompasis paid for the new gas-powered furnace and hot water heater. They then received nearly $800 in rebates from the utility company for switching to more efficient models.

Sullivan believes the new appliances will be about 20 percent more efficient this coming winter than her old ones, explaining how she “dreaded” turning on the heat for the first time each year.

“I expect to be rolling in the cash now,” she said.

Sullivan decided to look into switching because she felt the savings would be greater and that natural gas is a cleaner fuel source for her family.

Because the main is being extended, some neighbors are now looking into switching to gas as well.

Gas Operation Supervisor Tony Savona said if others in the Capital Region would like to look into switching from oil to natural gas, they should call National Grid Costumer Service. A planner can then assess if a gas main can be extended to the home.

For more information about energy efficiency call 1-800-642-4272 or visit www.nationalgrid.com/floe.

 
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