What will winter heating bills look like? | VailDaily.com

What will winter heating bills look like?

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – Most people in Eagle County will pay a bit more for their gas, electricity, or both this coming winter.

Xcel Energy – which provides natural gas to much of the upper valley – has actually dropped its gas prices by 1 percent for the winter. The utility doesn’t provide much electricity to the valley, but those prices are about even with last year’s rates.

Holy Cross Energy, which provides electricity to most of the valley, is raising its prices. Company CEO Del Worley said the utility already raised residential rates by about 5 percent last summer. The company is also passing to consumers the higher price of electricity it buys, about another 5 percent.

Holy Cross doesn’t own any power plants, which means it buys its electricity from other suppliers – Xcel, for the most part. The cost of power is between 60 and 65 percent of the utility’s cost, Worley said.

The boost in power prices may have come from fluctuations in the price of natural gas, which has taken some wide swings over the past few years.

The swings in gas prices explain the roughly 10 percent jump in rates from Source Gas, which provides natural gas from about Edwards west.

Natalie Shelbourn, the Colorado business and governmental affairs manager for Source Gas, said this year’s increase comes on the heels of a drop in prices last year.

The utility essentially collects from customers, then buys gas. After a big runup in prices in 2008, the company increased its rates in 2009 and 2010. When the price of gas dropped, the utility lowered its rates in 2010 and this year to essentially make up for charging too much.

While rates are going up, Len Mize, director of corporate communications for Source Gas, said prices charged this year and 2012 – the company works on a Nov. 1-Oct. 31 fiscal cycle – should steady natural gas prices.

“New domestic finds of gas have really stabilized the market,” Mize said.

But an increase is an increase, and a few dollars a month more toward energy costs is money that have to come from another part of the family budget.

With that in mind, Megan Gilman, a member of the Holy Cross board of directors and co-owner of local company Active Energies, said the old tips for saving money – sealing windows, weatherstripping doors, changing furnace filters and the like – remain good advice.

“There’s a reason everybody talks about those things – they’re really cost-effective ways to save,” Gilman said. “And, with the housing market being slow, people planning to stay in the places for a while can really benefit.”

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or smiller@vaildaily.com.

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