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Home heating prices on the rise

Friday, September 26, 2008 | 1:54 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — As winter approaches, propane and natural gas prices continue to climb.

As of Sept. 18, propane prices in Missouri were $2.30 per gallon, a 36 percent increase from the same time last year. That means the $845 cost last September to fill a 500-gallon propane tank has risen to about $1,150.

Following a similar upward trend, natural gas prices have increased to $7.91 per million British thermal units, or 28 percent higher than last year's $6.18.

Kerry Cordray of the Energy Center at the Missouri Department of Natural Resources said natural gas and propane prices "tend to follow similar curves. They often relate in overall energy prices."

Resources are priced based on availability and a processCordray explained as complex and difficult to predict. "It's a supply and demand issue that relies on the type of winter we are going to have," Cordray said.

While it may not be possible to predict how bitterly cold Columbia will be this winter, Cordray said his agency shares "a great deal of overall concern for home heating" for the coming season.

Considering residents might try cutting costs by using wood-burning stoves, Chris Haubner, an International Society of Arboriculture-certified arborer and owner of Tree Wizard, anticipates an upturn in demand for firewood.

"We haven't noticed a rise in demand yet, but we're planning on it," Haubner said. "We're more stocked this year than we normally are."

David Mars, the "energy guy" for Columbia's Water and Light Department, evaluates homes and gives energy conservation suggestions to city utility customers. As winter approaches, he has noticed some uneasiness among homeowners.

He said people on fixed incomes are especially concerned. "Their retirement portfolio is getting affected by the recent market trends," he said.

As for the amount of people requesting conservation help, Mars said he is about three times busier than last year. "People are trying to figure out strategies to lower their bills," he said.

Along with propane and natural gas customers, those using electric heat should also expect higher rates this winter. After the City Council approved an electrical rate increase, "the average electric customer will have a 5 percent increase that will go into effect on October 1," said Connie Kacprowicz, spokeswoman for Columbia Water and Light.

And while Kacprowicz said a majority of Columbia residents are using natural gas to heat their homes, Columbia Water and Light offers "a huge amount of energy conservation programs."

The Department of Natural Resources is also in the process of launching "Be Energy Efficient," a public information campaign in cooperation with the Missouri Public Service Commission and Missouri Utilities.

A new Web site is also being developed: BeEnergyEfficent.org. While it currently only directs browsers back to the DNR Energy Center homepage, it should be ready to debut sometime in the beginning of October. The site will have tips for average homeowners to use in order to cut back on their energy costs. Included will be advice on what people can do for no-cost, low-cost and long-term saving investments.

City utility customers can receive information on programs to help with energy conservation by calling 874-7325 or going to www.GoColumbiaMo.com.


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