By Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE -- Bay Staters enjoying the final stretch of summer can look forward to a pricey winter for home heating costs, according to state officials.
"It's going to be a very expensive winter," predicted Secretary of Environment and Energy Affairs Maeve Vallely Bartlett, at a meeting at Tufts Medical Center Tuesday. She told the News Service, "We are projecting that due to our constrained natural gas supply, that prices in New England will go up for the winter."
High energy costs have been seen as one of the drags on the Massachusetts economy. Ratepayers in the state spend nearly double what people in Idaho pay for natural gas, though less than Hawaii, Florida, Arizona, New Hampshire, Maine and Rhode Island, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Bartlett said she would have a more precise idea of how much prices will increase by around November, and said part of the cost is a result of a prolonged period of frigid temperatures last winter that kept furnaces blasting.
"With the extreme winter last year, people will see those costs reflected this year, and then if we continue to have extreme winters and a constrained energy supply, those costs will continue to go up," Bartlett said.
Meanwhile, as coal and nuclear power plants around the region have planned closures, there is a natural gas plant being developed in Salem, which would add further demand on the state's current system of pipes.
Kinder Morgan is interested in building an additional natural gas pipeline from the New York border to Dracut, which would increase the gas supply, though some argue it would chain Massachusetts to fossil fuels and create environmental hazards along its path.
Gov. Deval Patrick raised the possibility of bringing electricity down from hydroelectric plants in Quebec, but legislation that would have enabled such a change in state energy policy fell short this summer. In the meantime, the state has alternative means to receive natural gas in the form of liquefied natural gas, or LNG, which arrives by tanker ships.
"We believe that we may get increased shipments of LNG, which is good for reliability, but will be costly," said Bartlett.
Department of Energy Resources deputy commissioner Dan Burgess said the grid will likely make more use of coal plants when natural gas becomes more precious in the cold months.
According to the Department of Energy Resources, 48.5 percent of households use utility gas to heat their homes, followed by 32.8 percent that use home heating oil or kerosene and 13.7 percent that use electricity.