How have lower heating fuel costs and a warmer winter affected your operations this season?

District Voices

Published March 1, 2007  | March 2007 issue

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We actually have more applications in our office than last year. Last year was our largest energy-assistance year ever, and I have 5 percent more applications in our office. ... At the rate we're processing, and the rate they're processing [applications] statewide, we're projecting to be out of energy-assistance funds (by) February 12. ... Last year we had 134,000 households who received energy-assistance grants; this year, given our current federal funding, about 40,000 of those households won't get grants, statewide. ... People can't afford it whether it's 80 cents less per therm or not; it was unaffordable to begin with. I would predict there will be high outstanding balances and, being able to serve less people, there will be a crisis in our state.
Catherine Fair, Director of Community Assistance
Community Action Partnership of Ramsey and Washington Counties—St. Paul, Minn.

Wait until the winter is over. Next week is looking to be quite cold, and whatever we say now could really be different two weeks from now. We've heard less complaints at the counter from homeowners; I think I can safely say that. And so I think that by and large the reduction in energy prices has been appreciated. ...We are a very residential utility. We have very little in the way of industrial customers. Basically, our customers are schools and residents.
Martha Piepgras, Vice President
St. Croix Valley Natural Gas—River Falls, Wis.

The warm weather sure has affected heating. All the service calls have been down. I sell wood stoves and pipe-gas stoves and high-efficiency furnaces and boilers. Well, of course, they're down. With a mild winter, people aren't so concerned about saving energy when the heating cost isn't so hard on them. ... I think last year there was more demand when there were colder temperatures and the fuel bills were higher. Our business is driven by the temperature, that's for sure. In the winter, when it's cold, well, you get furnaces breaking down or working harder. ... But as soon as the weather cooled down, the business picked up.
Bob Ruonavaara, Owner
Bob's Sheet Metal Heating & AC—Hancock, Mich

The effect of the warm winter and lower heating cost for natural gas has had a negative effect on all my hearth appliances, whether it's corn stoves or what. Although, interestingly enough, wood-burning products have increased. Gas-burning products have stayed pretty level; they haven't increased, much to my chagrin. ... Corn stoves went over really big, but now that corn prices are rising due to the ethanol plants, and the fuel cost of natural gas has dropped, and the warm winter, that's had a devastating effect on corn stove sales. ...
[T]he corn stove sales have dropped probably as much as 80 percent.
Denny Hildebrand, Owner
Burning Desires—Mandan, N.D.

We're into the heating fuel and LP gas also, and as far as the winter we've had out here in South Dakota, our [distribution] is down considerably just due to the warmer weather. What you will hear from people is money is tight, because the prices have come down some on the refined fuels but the LP has held steady. So from the consumer perspective, even though it's been a warmer winter, they probably will tell you their bills are as high as normal. But from a distribution standpoint, I would say our sales are down 20 percent. And as with any business, you have limited margin to work with, so while the man on the street may not see the difference, anybody in our type of business is definitely feeling it.
Dave Andresen, General Manager
Four Seasons Co-op—Britton, S.D.

We don't view the temperature swing as being a huge issue in the ground-source heat pump business as much as the cost of electricity and the cost of natural gas ... but our business has been very good in the ground-source business over the last couple of years, and this year really looks to be another growth year in that industry. ... We make a bentonite-based material that's used for the backfill to enhance the thermal conductivity, so when they're constructing a loop field, they use our products around that loop to transfer that heat. The predictions for the amount of work that's out there, on the commercial side in particular, from our standpoint, we see it as projecting out above where it was at this time last year. ... You never know how much of that business you're going to get until you're actually in the middle of it, but my prediction would probably be at least 30 percent.
Stewart Krause, Senior Sales Engineer
Wyoben—Billings, Mont.

Interviews conducted in early February.