Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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March 25, 2012

Prices at the pump guzzle up winter heating savings

Natural gas customers in the Kokomo area had a break with bills this winter, but another type of gas — fuel for vehicles — guzzled that extra money.

A mild winter and lower supply costs reduced natural gas bills an average of $112, or 24.9 percent, November through February for Northern Indiana Public Service Co. customers.

But the savings on heating costs only lessened burdens on household budgets as higher gasoline prices over the same four months drained more money than most people saved on heating, according to a Ball State University economist.

Meter prices

NIPSCO’s customers paid an average monthly bill of about $84 over November, December, January and February. The monthly average for the same four months in 2010 and 2011 was about $112, or $28 more.

Kokomo customers last winter would have belonged to Kokomo Gas & Fuel, then a sister company of NIPSCO, but both gas providers had similar bill sizes, said company spokesman Nick Meyer.

Warmer weather this winter led to NIPSCO customers’ using 18.2 percent less gas last winter.

The Indiana State Climate Office recorded an average air temperature for Howard County of about 35 degrees F from November through February. A year earlier, the average temperature was almost 10 degrees cooler.

Also, the natural gas NIPSCO bought cost about 13.1 percent less as commodity prices continued a slide since their peak in 2005.

“It’s unprecedented that they’ve been this low,” Meyer said, “and it’s difficult to project if it’s truly reached the bottom. However, we don’t expect them to maintain these low levels for the long term. At some point, they’ll start to trickle back up.”

He attributed NIPSCO’s lower supply costs to more natural gas on the U.S. market, notably from, some times controversial, shale gas.

Bruce Jaffee, a professor of business economics and public policy at Indiana University, said increased natural gas supplies should keep winter heating costs down for several more years as long as the weather does not become too extreme.

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