CAPITAL REGION -- The home heating season is just beginning in the Capital Region, but the one thing that is clear as days get shorter and frost advisories start is that heating a home or office is going to be more expensive this winter than last year.
With world oil prices at a four-year high (drivers have noticed that pain at the pump), home heating oil prices are starting the season 20 percent higher in the Capital Region than they were a year ago, at the start of what turned out to be a severe winter. Whether the price will trend further upward over the course of the winter remains hard to predict.
The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority reported that the average price of home heating oil in the eight counties in and around the Capital Region was $3.06 per gallon as of Oct. 1, up from $2.54 in the same week a year ago. It's also up 5 cents from just the week before.
Last winter, the price that would begin at $2.55 per gallon in early October would go on to spike at $3.03 per gallon in late January, though it fell a few cents thereafter.
Propane, according to NYSERDA, is priced at $2.96 per gallon this week, up 9 percent from a year ago.
Worldwide crude oil prices will average $73 a barrel in 2018 and $74 per barrel in 2019, according to the Short-term Energy Outlook by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Despite pressure from President Donald J. Trump to increase production to push prices down, OPEC promised to keep production steady at a meeting in late September. Some analysts believe that U.S. sanctions against Iran and economic problems in Venezuela will lead to supply shortages in the coming year.
The Energy Information Administration, which predicted that home heating prices would rise through the season last winter, has yet to issue its forecast for the winter of 2018-19. National Grid also waits until late October, as more information becomes available, before making any predictions, said spokesman Nathan Stone.
The U.S. Congress in just-passed legislation added $50 million to the budget of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which offers cash to low-income people who struggle each winter to keep up with their energy bills. The total allocation under that program will be $3.7 billion.
Both New York senators supported the funding increase. New York receives the most LIHEAP funding of any state, they said.
"No New Yorker should be forced to choose between keeping their homes warm during the winter, or cool during the summer, and paying for their food or rent," said U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. "LIHEAP is a lifeline for over 1 million New Yorkers who rely on this critical program to cover their energy bills."
As recently as last April, the Trump administration proposed eliminating the program, Gillibrand noted.
Across upstate, the program is administered by county departments of social services, which will start taking applications on Nov. 13. Emergency HEAP benefits will become available on Jan. 2. County-by-county allocations aren't yet available.
Last winter, Schenectady County distributed $1,063,000 in assistance to 3,122 households, said county spokesman Joe McQueen.
This year's need for help remains an unknown. "We won't know that until the cold weather comes and people start to call," McQueen said.
In upstate New York, income guidelines vary by the size of the household, but a family of four could be earning as much as $4,598 per month and qualify for assistance. People receive almost any form of public assistance also qualify.