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Published: Friday, 2/28/2014 - Updated: 6 months ago

RISING HEATING BILLS

Record-setting winter costly for area residents

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

For Jane Titer, this has been “a terrible winter.” While the subzero temperatures have put a chill in her bones, her rising natural gas bills have been enough to keep her blood boiling.

“I thought, oh my gosh, I’m freezing in here and my bill is still $152,” the Perrysburg resident recalled after getting her bill for the month of January.

A year ago, she said, “I know my gas bills weren’t nearly this high. They were all below $100 and mostly around $75.”

But this year’s record-setting snowfall and months of freezing temperatures have made more than a few natural gas customers blink when they’re received their gas bills.

D. “Corbey” Corbet got a January gas bill of $250 for her Toledo ranch home. “I had a new roof put on last year and I thought it would have helped, but it didn’t,” she said.

Richard Caro of Perrysburg got a $146 cost for January. A year ago, his January cost was $83.

“You’re at the mercy of the weather,” Mr. Caro said. “When we’re here ourselves, we turn it down to 65 and go to bed. But we’ve had grandkids here in the winter and we turn it up for them. This has been a very unusual year.”

Fellow Perrysburg resident Eleanor Gebolys said she knew her bills would go up when the cold hit, so there was no point in complaining.

“We know this, that, and the other other thing is going up and we just sort of go with the flow. Thank God if we can handle it,” she said. “It seems like this winter has been 97 years long.”

Columbia Gas of Ohio Inc. spokesman Chris Kozak said that by comparison, bills that customers are receiving this winter, despite the severe cold, are still comparatively lower than bills they received in 2006 — a bellwether year for high heating costs.

In 2006, the natural gas price for consumers rose to $1.36 per hundred cubic feet in January and the average bill that month was $279.09. This year, the January price was 57 cents per hundred cubic feet and the average bill was $136.19, Mr. Kozak said.

What is causing the shock for many customers is the comparison between this year and last year, when northwest Ohio went through a milder winter.

In January, 2013, the price for gas was just 49 cents per hundred cubic feet and the average bill was $108.59, according to Columbia Gas.

The difference between this year and 2006 isn’t just the cold. Both were cold winters.

But in 2006 Columbia Gas was almost solely reliant on gas from the Gulf Coast, which had just experienced two major hurricanes the year before.

Since then, huge shale gas deposits in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere have yielded abundant supplies of cheap gas that are close to Ohio, keeping the prices relatively low despite a record snowfall and frigid temperatures this year.

“The shale really took over everything,” Mr. Kozak said. “It’s made a big difference.”

Still, the rising gas prices this year have forced many users to make some difficult decisions.

Ms. Titer, who is on a fixed income, has had to cut back her spending elsewhere to pay her higher bills.

“I save on other things, but I watch that I have money for the bill. I haven’t been to the grocery store for a month because I’m trying to save as much money as I can,” she said.

For the Rev. Mark Vipond, rising gas bills have meant he has to sell his guitar and amplifier.

Mr. Vipond, a pastor currently without a church, has been staying in the parsonage of Sonrise Community Church at 5025 Rambo Ln., in Toledo.

As part of his arrangement, he agreed to pay the heating bills of the parsonage and was shocked to get a $400 gas bill in December.

“The cold has not let up. That first month was $400, so I turned the heat down to 60 degrees and that cut [January’s bill] to between $200 and $250, but it’s still a lot,” Mr. Vipond said.

Sonrise Church, a displaced and deliverance ministry, also has been hit with high gas bills, Mr. Vipond said.

“Their last bill was $800-plus and whenever the next one arrives it’s going to be big. They need help paying their gas bill. They turned the [thermostat] temperature down and their pipes froze so they’ve been leaving the temperature up,” Mr. Vipond said.

The cold winter has even meant a rising bill for Rossford resident Jack Roesler, who is known for lowering his heating bills through a variety of measures including triple pane windows, increased insulation, and energy-efficient heating.

This winter, Mr. Roesler even used thermal barrier plastic to increase the insulation on his windows. Still, his January bill was $118. Last year it was just $68.

In January, his bill showed his furnace used 116 ccf (hundred cubic feet) of gas. “Boy, it hasn’t been that high in a long time,” Mr. Roesler said. “But I’m not surprised. The average temperature for January was 17.5 degrees. Last year it was 29.2 degrees.”

Bob Eyre, leader of the Ohio Gas Co. in Bryan, said the rising prices are only half attributable to the weather.

The other half is the rising price of gas on the commodity markets.

Last year, the average consumer bill in January for Ohio Gas Co. customers was $83, Mr. Eyre said. This year, it’s $100.

Fortunately for Ohio Gas customers the utility contracts annually to buy gas earlier in the year at lower prices and have it stored for the winter usage.

“We have storage, so we’re not as sensitive to the market,” Mr. Eyre said.

Contact Jon Chavez at: jchavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.



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