Sharp increase in winter heating costs predicting

Tuesday, October 11th 2005, 11:52 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The natural gas industry said Tuesday there should be plenty of the fuel this winter, but costs are expected to average at least 50 percent higher than last winter nationwide.

Some homeowners in the Midwest, where natural gas is used in four out of every five homes, could pay as much as $1,600 to heat their homes this winter if the weather turns colder than normal, according to the American Gas Association and consumer advocates.

``The biggest driver for natural gas bills will be weather,'' said Roger Cooper, executive director of the AGA, which represents gas utilities. Despite supply disruptions from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, there should be adequate gas supplies in storage, said AGA officials at a news conference.

Last year, the average gas user nationwide spent about $700 for heat over the winter months, although prices in the Midwest averaged about $950 for the season.

Mark Wolfe, a consumer advocate representing state officials who manage the low-income energy assistance program, said some people will ``have to make tough choices'' whether to pay utility bills or go without food or postpone medical attention.

``We have never seen prices so high and increase so quickly,'' said Wolfe.