CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Although winter heating costs are expected to rise slightly throughout much of the nation this year, officials with state agencies and utilities say m West Virginians shouldn't see a big jump.
Jackie Lake Roberts, consumer advocate director at the state Public Service Commission, does not believe utility rates will rise sharply this winter or next year.
"I am not seeing anything on the horizon that is big," Roberts said this week.
During the past decade, changes in annual average utility rates in West Virginia varied, according to the PSC Consumer Advocate Division.
For example, state utility rates increased by 16 percent in 2003 and by 11.5 percent in 2004. Utility rates dropped by 4.2 percent in 2007, then rose again by 15.6 percent in 2008.
But recently, rates have been stable.
"I tend to agree with that analysis. There will not be a great upheaval," said Raamie Barker, senior advisor to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.
"Certainly, there will be some utilities that will seek some kind of increase. Usually, they seek increases because their costs are increasing. It seems like things are trending down in the energy business right now," Barker said.
"We don't know what kind of winter we are going to have," Barker added. "So we don't know how much heat we will need. If you need more heat, you will burn more coal or gas.
"For consumers, we hope there will be a mild winter. Investors in utilities are hoping against us. I just hope we don't have any major storms that cause a lot of damage."
Last month, the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicted that more than 90 percent of the 116 million homes in the United States would pay more for winter heating this year than last year. They projected homes that heat with natural gas would pay 13 percent more, homes with propane would pay 9 percent more, and homes with electric heat would pay 2 percent more.
But even with the increase in natural gas prices from last winter, the projected cost for this winter is lower than the average of the previous five winters, according to the EIA.
"We are not expecting a big jump in prices in the natural gas market during the next year," said Moses G. Skaff, senior vice president for Mountaineer Gas.
"In the wintertime, sales of our product are basically driven by the weather. The more people use, the more expenses they will have," Skaff said.
"We never thought we would see electric companies going to natural gas to generate power," Skaff said. "The use of coal is dropping. Right now, consumers using natural gas have pretty much of a bargain compared to those using other utilities."