WASHINGTON -- Residential heating costs are projected to soar this winter to more than $1,000 on average because of higher fuel prices and colder weather, the government said yesterday.
On average, people will pay an additional $133 to $270 for heat, compared with last winter, which also was seen as an unusually expensive season.
In areas with severe weather or a sudden spike in demand, costs could increase several hundred dollars beyond that, according to the forecast. No shortages were predicted. Now that crude oil has climbed above $50 a barrel, the wholesale cost of heating oil has nearly doubled, compared with last year's. Natural gas has risen to more than $7 per thousand cubic feet, despite reports of adequate supplies. It was in the $4 to $5 range earlier this year.
The Energy Department's statistical arm said heating oil users will see the sharpest increase, with an average bill of $1,223 for the season, compared with $953 last year. That's a 28 percent increase.
But natural gas customers will be hit, too. They are forecast to pay $1,003, compared with $870 last year, an increase of 15 percent. Users of propane are expected to see a 21 percent increase to $1,396.
The agency warned that the projections are based on a normal winter and that costs could be even higher in regions with significantly colder weather. Government weather forecasters said the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Gulf Coast can expect colder than normal conditions this winter. Warmer than usual conditions are likely in Alaska and the West.
The outlook for the Northeast, Midwest, and parts of the Southwest was uncertain.
The energy agency said heating oil inventories "appear to be adequate to insure against unanticipated demand" even in severe weather. But "demand surges" could cause prices to spike.
A colder than projected winter could mean an additional 15 to 18 percent in heating costs, depending on the fuel, the agency said.
A surge in winter heating costs has been expected in light of the high crude prices and a recent jump in natural gas prices.
Heating oil for delivery in November increased to $1.42 a gallon, 70 percent higher than a year ago, on Wednesday on the New York Mercantile Exchange as crude oil edged up to $52.02 a barrel; both were records. Natural gas is 42 percent more expensive than a year ago, with the price for November delivery at $7.045 per 1,000 cubic feet.