Possibly the biggest factor effecting your electric bill is the weather. It not only directly influences how much you use to heat or cool your home but also effects the demand, supply, and ultimately the price of energy on the wholesale markets. In our What’s the Weather? series, we’ll track weather forecasts and events to see how they impact your energy bills and how that information can help you save.
Phil, Facts, and Prices
When America’s favorite meteorological prognosticating rodent, Punxsutawny Phil, emerged from his burrow this past February 2nd, he saw his shadow, and according to tradition, foretold of 6 more weeks of winter to come.
In contrast, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) emerged from their computer modeling lab on January 19, they issued a more precise forecast saying that temperatures for February through April “favors above-normal temperatures from the northeast to the Gulf coast, and westward across the southern plains to the four corners region.”
Texas has the highest likelihood of seeing above-normal temperatures while below-normal temperatures are predicted for the northern Great Plains and upper Mississippi Valley. Meantime, there are enhanced chances for “above-median” precipitation stretching from the Pacific Northwest, across the northern Great Plains, over the Great Lakes, and into the Ohio Valley. Dryer conditions are expected in southwest, west Texas, central Gulf coast, through the southeastern states, and up into the mid-Atlantic states.
For the most part, large urban areas in New England, the mid-Atlantic, and Texas will face fewer cold days that call for heat. That means lower demand for natural gas for heat, and helping lower that fuel’s price for electricity generators. The bulk of new natural gas fired power plants are being built in the mid-Atlantic states and Texas.
Yet, natural gas is the prime heating fuel for the northern Great Plains and upper Mississippi Valley, which includes big urban areas like St. Louis, Chicago, and Minneapolis, and which all face chilly below-normal temperatures. Add in the “above-median” precipitation as snow cover and the duration for below-normal temperatures can last longer. Snow cover reflects sunlight and keeps such regions colder longer. Consequently, higher than average amounts of natural gas will be burned for home heating.
Nationally speaking, it’s balancing out so far. There was a lot of cold weather in December but temperatures seem to be moderating. Back in December, EIA’s Short Term Energy Outlook (STEO) suggested that depending on the weather, Americans would consume 3 to 4% more electricity through March this winter than last. But on Groundhog Day, EIA reported, “Temperatures in the Lower 48 states averaged 44°F, 11°F higher than the normal and 10°F higher than last year at this time.” NOAA’s most recent monthly prediction says that with the exception of New York State and New England, most of the 48 contiguous states will probably see above normal temperatures for February. Yet, it goes without saying that in some places “above-normal” winter temperatures means 26°F instead of a normal 15°F.
So, what does this suggest about where your electric bill is going? The national price is predicted to rise to the same price going into March as it was last year.
Of course, that all depends on the weather.
In our next installment, we’ll update La Niña’s status and check in with the Arctic Oscillation.