Americans looking to save money on their heating bills are finding that the secret lies in a domestic source of energy whose price is expected to remain low for decades: natural gas.
Across the cold climates of the northern U.S., businesses and institutions are finding that they can save significantly by switching to natural gas. So a growing number of Americans—in northern states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York—are investing substantial sums to convert boilers and other equipment from oil to natural gas.
But homeowners are also seeing lower costs for natural gas-fired heat, the result of newly abundant supplies being produced from shale-rock.
Two-thirds of Pennsylvanian homeowners that rely on natural gas for heat are paying some of the lowest prices in a decade this year, the Associated Press reported on Dec. 3. Utilities credit the huge quantities of gas being pulled from the Marcellus Shale.
New York City suddenly is finding that it has new supplies of affordable natural gas, thanks to a new pipeline that doubled the amount of gas flowing to the city from sources that include the Marcellus Shale. The result was an instant drop in the price of gas in the city.
"This is a huge deal, a total game-changer," Phil Flynn, a senior market analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago, told BusinessWeek. "The New York region is woefully under-served but this helps. Consumers are finally going to start seeing the benefits of cheap natural gas show up in Manhattan."
In Ohio, natural gas prices have been at the lowest point in a decade for two years now, as the shale boom hit full stride. They're expected to rise "only slightly" this winter – but remain low for the foreseeable future, the Toledo Blade reported on Aug. 20.
"It's a very bright future for consumers on the natural gas side going forward," Robert Stitt Black, president of Ohio's Waterville Gas Co., told the Blade.
All of these developments are in keeping with the federal government's projections, which have consistently highlighted the significant price advantage that gas has over other sources of energy.
Heating costs across the U.S., for example, are expected to average $679 per home this winter for those relying on natural gas. Compare that to $909 for electric heat, $1,666 for propane and $2,046 for heating oil, according to the Energy Information Agency's Oct. 8 forecast.
Switching to gas produces an added benefit: reduced air emissions. New York City is expected to see cleaner air as a result of the new pipeline—and the lower gas prices it will bring, according to BusinessWeek, which reported that apartment buildings will likely move more quickly to replace fuel-oil boilers with cleaner, more efficient gas furnaces.
Such changes have been underway for sometime in some of the coldest parts of the northeast. For example, the University of Maine at Machias—where January temperatures can average below freezing—has already taken steps to reduce its emissions 44 percent. That's more than any other campus in the University of Maine system. It's now in the process of going a step further by converting to natural gas, a change that's expected to cut the school's emissions an additional 30 percent and save $90,000 annually in fuel costs.