If you heat your home with natural gas, you will need to reach a little deeper into your pocket this winter to pay for your bills.
Those who use oil can breathe a little easier. But everyone will end up paying more for utilities because electricity bills are going up.
The projections come amid the natural-gas production boom in the U.S. that has kept utility bills steady in recent years. Natural-gas prices have plummeted as producers began using the hydraulic fracturing technology to extract gas from rock layers -- the previously untapped gas reservoirs.
Those who heat homes with natural gas have also seen their bills gradually but steadily decline since 2008 across the country, although they are now projected to increase an average of 13 percent this winter nationwide.
The sudden abundance of natural gas also kept electricity bills from soaring as more power plants began running on natural gas instead of coal or oil.
Natural gas costs less now than it did in 2008 and earlier in New England, as well. But prices haven't fallen in the region as much as in the rest of the country. In fact, the more popular natural gas has become, the more Massachusetts residents are paying to heat and light their homes.
That's because New England has only has so many gas pipelines funneling fuel into the region, so supply cannot keep up with the ever-growing demand.
According to ISO New England -- the nonprofit regional transmission organization serving Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Rhode Island and Connecticut -- natural gas was responsible for 15 percent of power generation in the six states.
Last year, 52 percent of power was generated on natural gas.
That means New England power generators switched to natural gas more quickly than in other regions in the U.S.
Nationwide, 27 percent of power is generated from natural gas, compared to 17 percent a decade ago, according to Edward Cahill, research associate at Lux Research, Inc., of Boston.
Growing uses of natural gas for power production increases prices for residential gas heating, Cahill said. That is particularly a problem in New England, where the pipes become congested like a traffic jam in narrow streets. That causes price spikes during cold winter months, according to the federal Department of Energy.
"That overproduction made the prices fall to all-time lows," Cahill said, making it difficult for producers to profit.
So some companies stopped production. Reduced supply has resulted in natural-gas prices bouncing back recently, Cahill said. Because of that, coal again became an economic choice for power production in certain parts of the country, according to the DOR.
But in New England, natural-gas usage for power production continues to grow. As of Oct. 1, natural gas supplied through Algonquin Gas Transmission Company -- the principal interstate natural-gas pipeline serving the Boston area -- cost $6.76 per MMBtu, nearly double $3.39 a year ago.
In order to lock in the price for January and February supply through Algonquin, buyers were paying as much as $11.75 per MMBtu. And that may be a deal considering the more than $30 MMBtu spikes the region saw over last winter.
As of Oct. 1, natural gas cost $3.50 to $3.80 per MMBtu in many other parts of the country, up from $2.50 to $2.70 a year ago.
DOR said pipe congestion is not just a price problem -- it's a reliability issue.
"The New England ISO reported that during periods of natural-gas system constraints last winter, there were operational events that would have created reliability concerns if the weather had been more severe," DOR noted in its Energy Market Assessment Report to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last month.
National Grid now pays 38 percent more to buy power than it did a year ago. But the overall bill will only increase by 18 percent to 19 percent because delivery charges and other components of the bill aren't rising, according to Deborah Drew, spokeswoman for National Grid.
A typical household that consumes 500 kwh of electricity each month will see its bill increase by $13.87, from $74.38 to $88.25.
In the meantime, National Grid's gas rate for the region will increase to $0.6727 per therm from $0.632 for the period of November through April. That means a typical household, using about 126 therms each month, will see its bill increase by $5.03 per month, Drew said.
Oil prices are projected to decline. The average heating-oil price for peak winter months in Massachusetts is projected to be $3.76 per gallon compared to $3.97 last winter, according to the result of the survey that the state Department of Energy Resources conducted on Nov. 5.
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