Here’s one thing to be thankful for come November: U.S. heating costs are projected to be the lowest in at least four winters because of warmer-than-usual weather and lower fuel prices.
Households that heat with natural gas, as most Midwesterners do, could save around $65 on average over the winter, the Energy Information Administration predicted in its annual winter fuels outlook.
From October through March, the agency estimated, they will pay an average of $578, down 10 percent from a year ago and the least since the winter of 2011-2012.
Kansas City area utilities said they have similar expectations.
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Missouri Gas Energy, which has 350,000 area customers, expects its average residential customer to spend $513, excluding taxes, this winter, less than last winter.
Spokeswoman Jenny Gobble said Missouri Gas Energy agreed with the federal report saying that natural gas remains the most economic way to heat.
“However,” she said, “many factors can impact the total cost of a heating bill, including efficiency of appliances, weather and rates.”
Dawn Ewing of Kansas Gas Service said it is forecasting an 8 percent drop — from $515 last year to $475 this winter — for its average residential customer. That assumed normal weather, though, unlike the national expectation for a warmer-than-normal winter.
Kansas Gas Service has 135,000 natural gas customers in the Kansas City area.
Atmos Energy also said it is reasonable for its 90,000 customers in Johnson, Wyandotte, Miami and Douglas counties to expect similar savings. The gas costs it has been passing on to customers for September and October are the lowest since 2011 — and about 10 percent lower than a year ago.
“We also have good volumes of gas in storage and hedging programs in place” to cushion against any unexpected surge in prices, said Atmos spokesman Jim Bartling.
The utilities also noted that gas costs are only part of monthly bills. Other charges cover maintenance of pipelines and other delivery and storage costs.
The Energy Information Administration also forecasts that propane bills in the Midwest this winter will average $1,234, the lowest in at least eight years. Those prices spiked two winters ago, costing some rural residents hundreds of extra dollars.
Heating oil users will pay $1,392, the lowest since at least 2008, the agency forecasts. Those using electricity in the U.S. will see their costs drop 3 percent from a year ago, the agency said.
Heating costs are forecast to slide as supplies of oil and natural gas continue to flow out of U.S. shale formations, boosting inventories heading into winter. That’s coinciding with what government forecasters expect will be a warmer-than-usual season in the Midwest, South and Northeast, curbing demand for the fuels.
“If winter temperatures come in as expected by U.S. government weather forecasters, U.S. consumers will pay less to stay warm this winter no matter what heating fuel they use,” Energy Information Administration chief Adam Sieminski said in a statement.
Gas pipeline constraints in the Northeast may create price volatility during very cold stretches, but demand in the region will probably fall 11 percent, the agency said. Costs there will average $863, the lowest since 2011.
The only place where costs are expected to rise this winter is the West. Increased electricity demand in the region will boost expenditures for those heating with power by 3.8 percent to $865.
The Star’s Greg Hack and Bloomberg News contributed to this report.