BISMARCK, N.D. – Natural gas prices for the upcoming winter heating season are expected to be higher than what Montana-Dakota Utilities customers paid last winter. For a variety of reasons, prices could be about $30 more per month compared to the 2021-22 heating season, which runs November through March.
“We understand prices have increased for many day-to-day necessities because of inflation; securing a reliable source of natural gas for our customers is facing the same higher price pressures,” said Nicole Kivisto, president and CEO of Montana-Dakota. “The company goes through a robust process to secure an adequate supply, using different sources and methods to mitigate price increases as much as possible while ensuring a reliable supply during our cold winter months.”
Montana-Dakota customers typically use 70 dekatherms of natural gas over the heating season. The expected increase in natural gas costs is about $150 over the five months for an average residential customer, or $30 per month. The price outlook is based on a 30-year weather average. The cost of natural gas is a straight passthrough to Montana-Dakota’s customers and the company does not earn a profit on those costs.
Natural gas prices are determined by numerous market factors, such as supply and demand, weather, imports and exports, underground storage levels and natural gas production. There are three main factors impacting natural gas prices this heating season:
- A hot summer and fall increased electric demand across the country and a large portion of that demand was met by natural gas-fired electric generation, which hit an all-time high in production in July.
- Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has impacted prices in Europe mainly because European countries stopped importing natural gas from Russia and turned to other sources. The United States increased liquified natural gas exports to Europe and became the world’s largest LNG exporter during the first half of 2022.
- Nationally, underground storage is about 9% lower than the five-year average, mainly because supply wasn’t as abundant over the summer since it was used for electric generation. Natural gas in storage is an important source to meet the winter heating season demand; however, when storage levels are lower, it can play a role in driving up market prices.
While supply has not kept up with demand, weather will likely be the biggest factor over the five-month heating season. For example, if the winter season is 10% colder than average, the winter heating season cost would be about $200, or $40 per month; conversely, if it’s 10% warmer than average, residential customers would pay, on average, about $80 more for the heating season, or $16 per month.
“While prices are higher this winter heating season, natural gas is still 30% to 50% lower when compared to heating your home with electricity or propane,” Kivisto said.
The cost of natural gas accounts for about 75-80% of a customer’s monthly bill, so conservation can play a big role in mitigating high prices. Taking measures such as installing a programmable thermostat, having a furnace inspection by a certified technician, changing furnace filters regularly and caulking or weather stripping leaky windows and doors can make a difference.
The company offers other tools, such as balanced billing as a way for customers to level out their payments over the course of the year, as well as guidance for customers to agencies that provide financial assistance, such as the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP.