Despite soaring petroleum costs and a frigid blast of cold weather this week, the overall outlook for heating costs this winter might not be as bad as it could be.
With the cost of oil continuing to flirt with $100 per barrel, the price of heating oil has continued to break records. In the Capital Region, the average retail price for heating oil and kerosene soared to more than 29 percent above last year’s rates, according to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.
Similarly, the cost of propane increased by more than 28 percent over the previous year’s average. As of Christmas Eve, the cost of heating oil, kerosene and propane all reached record high numbers since the authority began monitoring them in 1997.
According to NYSERDA, heating oil now costs $3.28 per gallon, propane $3.06 and kerosene $3.67.
But while residents can expect to pay more to heat their homes, they might not have to warm them any more than last year. Though temperatures dipped below zero Thursday, the winter so far hasn’t been much colder than normal, said Tom Wasula, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albany.
“In terms of what people expected, it should be right around the season-normal for the month,” he said.
Wasula said the area should warm up in the coming week, which is normal for the Capital Region. By the end of the weekend, he said, temperatures may approach 50.
“It’s somewhat of an early January thaw, and that’s going to persist into the week,” he said.
Even with all the snowfall in December, the Capital Region remained just 0.2 degrees below the average of 27.8 degrees. Wasula said this translated to only three heating-degree days above the norm.
So far, the season has not brought more applications for the state’s Home Energy Assistance Program, said Anthony Fletcher, a spokesman with the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.
“But we’re certainly expecting an increase [in HEAP applications] as the winter drags on and the cold weather increases,” he said.
Likewise, Schenectady County Social Services Commissioner Dennis Packard expects to see an increase in residents needing assistance later in the month, as energy bills from this week’s cold snap start coming in. However, he said, any prolonged frigid temperatures could prompt those already on assistance to seek more and push others into applying for the aid.
“It’s always on some level a crystal ball read,” he said.
Packard said another factor is how low-income households will cope with increased gasoline prices. In some cases, he said working families will need to increasingly rely on heating assistance.
“Now all of a sudden these things start having an ancillary impact,” he said.
Homes expected to be hardest hit by petroleum increases are likely to be in the suburban and rural areas, said Gerald Nolander, the executive director of the Public Utility Law Project, an Albany-based organization that advocates for low and fixed-income energy consumers. He said those homes relying on liquid fuels will feel the greatest impact.
“Those areas heavily relying on heating oil are getting pinched first,” he said.