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Kan. utilities expect higher winter heating costs

10/14/2013

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- Heating bills across Kansas will be significantly higher this winter as temperatures return to their icy norms and natural gas prices climb from historical lows, utility experts predict.

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- Heating bills across Kansas will be significantly higher this winter as temperatures return to their icy norms and natural gas prices climb from historical lows, utility experts predict.

Kansas Gas Service, with 630,000 customers across the state, expects customer bills to increase about 6 percent from November to May, spokeswoman Dawn Ewing told The Wichita Eagle (http://bit.ly/1fsolrz).

That estimate is based on a return to normal weather conditions over that period, she said. In the past two years, temperatures have been unseasonably mild across much of the country, including the Midwest, but weather experts say that's probably going to change this year.

Accuweather.com forecasts cooler temperatures and more storms, while the Commodity Weather Group said it expects temperatures to be slightly cooler than normal nationally.

Low natural gas prices that have driven energy prices down in recent years are headed up, doubling the impact on consumers.

Black Hills Energy, which serves more than 600,000 customers in Kansas, Colorado, Iowa and Nebraska, expects its natural gas prices to be in line with a projected national average that's 10 percent to 12 percent higher than a year ago, company spokesman Gabe Schlickau said.

"The reason it's drifting upward this year is highly due to the fact we had a cooler-than-average April and May, so more natural gas was drawn from storage fields nationally than anticipated by the industry," Schlickau said. "Through the summer, it's been trying to replace it, which means higher natural gas prices for the winter."

Combined with the record low gas prices over the last two years, this year's increase would represent only a 1 percent to 4 percent hike over the previous four-year average, he said.

For customers who struggle with the higher energy bills, the Kansas Corporation Commission's cold weather rule will be in effect Nov. 1 through March 31. It prohibits utility companies from disconnecting a customer's natural gas or electric service when temperatures fall below 35 degrees.

The Kansas Department of Children and Family Services administers the Low Income Energy Assistance Program, a federal program that helps eligible households pay a portion of their energy bills.