- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Residents are cranking up their heat — and their bills — as a cold snap settles over the Washington area.

Washington Gas customers have used about 35 percent more fuel than normal since Saturday, when temperatures plunged into the 30s from the 60s, spokesman Miguel Gonzalez said. The company provides natural gas to about a million households in the Washington area.

Yesterday, a couple inches of snow — the first significant snowfall of the season — snarled traffic regionwide and caused major accidents as temperatures fell to 21 degrees in the morning.

More snow is possible today, according to the National Weather Service, with temperatures rising to about 36 degrees before dropping again tomorrow to as low as 14 degrees in the early morning.

The service says snowy and freezing weather is expected in the area at least through early next week.

Dominion Virginia Power, which provides electricity to customers in eight states, on Tuesday set a winter record for one-hour peak demand from its Virginia and North Carolina customers.

Demand from the company’s 2.2 million customers in the two states rose to 16,689 megawatts from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. The former winter record of 16,448 megawatts was set a month earlier.

“Our energy use went up 23 percent between Sunday and Monday, which is indicative of the cold weather and how it blew in,” spokesman Jim Norvelle said.

During the colder months of this year, Washington Gas customers are expected to pay an average of about $1,000 for home heating, up from about $910 last year.

“For the entire six-month winter heating season, we expect customers to pay about 9 percent more than they did last year,” Mr. Gonzalez said, largely because of the rising price of natural gas in the United States.

The cold snap would become a significant issue in their monthly bills if it continues for a long time.

“For the month of January, the consumption for natural gas is actually less than normal because the weather has been warmer than normal,” Mr. Gonzalez said. “Four days of a cold snap is not a trend, it’s four days in the winter.”

A week ago, temperatures hit a high of 71 degrees.

As stockpiles of petroleum built up during the warm winter weather that lasted until this week, oil prices dropped and the U.S. Energy Information Administration revised its estimate of the nation’s heating bill downward.

Baltimore Gas and Electric spokesman Rob Gould put the cold weather’s effect on heating bills into perspective: “If an entire winter month is 10 degrees colder than normal, an electric residential heating customer would see their bill increase by about $40. A gas residential heating customer would see their bill increase by about $45.”

Fifty-two percent of U.S. households use natural gas for heating, according to the American Gas Association. Thirty-one percent use electricity. Most of the rest use fuel oil or propane.

All of the fuels are more expensive because of strong demand of supplies globally and domestically, said Mary-Beth Hutchinson, spokeswoman for the Potomac Electric Power Co.

“All of those things have just skyrocketed,” Miss Hutchinson said.

From 2000 to 2004, natural-gas prices rose 46 percent, home-heating oil costs were up 70 percent and coal prices increased by 82 percent, she said.

Last year, the Consumer Price Index rose 3.3 percent, largely because of a 16.6 percent jump in the price index for energy.

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