By Tom Johnson, NJ Spotlight
It looks as if some New Jersey residents may have to dig deeper into their pockets this winter to pay their energy bills.
The United States winter heating outlook projects that the coming season will be about 18 percent colder than last year, a prediction that the Energy Information Administration says will boost natural gas heating bills, as well as the cost of home heating oil, electricity, and propane.
For households that rely on home heating oil, the agency, an arm of the U.S. Department of Energy, estimated that the average expenditure for the fuel could reach record levels.
The bills for heating a home with natural gas this winter (October through March) are expected to be up nearly 14 percent; heating oil, up 17 percent; electricity, up 8 percent; and propane, up 17 percent -- according to EIA’s Short-Term Energy and Winter Fuels Outlook for the 2012-2013.
In New Jersey, where more than three-quarters of homes are heated by natural gas, the outlook is not as bleak. The state’s four gas utilities all are expecting a drop in utility bills, by as much as 3.6 percent in the case of Public Service Electric & Gas, which has 1.9 million customers.
Nationwide, the federal agency forecasts that natural gas prices will be 1 percent higher this winter.
The drop in natural gas prices has been spurred by increased production of the fuel in Pennsylvania and neighboring states, largely a result of the discovery of new supplies of the fuel in the Marcellus Shale formation there, according to Jorge Cardenas, vice president of asset management and centralized services for PSE&G.
Since January 2009, the utility’s residential customers have benefitted as the cost of natural gas has dropped about 39 percent, a decline, that has reduced residential gas bills by approximately $674 a year, according to PSE&G.
That trend may be coming to an end, according to EIA officials.