Utahns’ heating costs should stay flat — unless we have another big winter

Most westerners are expected to see a drop in natural gas costs, federal outlook says. Assistance is available for low-income residents.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Fresh snow blankets the Salt Lake Valley as the sun sets on Mount Olympus on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023. Utahns' home heating costs should hold steady this year if the state avoids another big winter like last year.

Barring another snowmageddon, Utahns likely will see their home heating costs hold steady this winter.

Dominion Energy, which supplies natural gas to about 90% of Utah households, raised its rates 11.5% last March and “it is anticipated that customers will not see an increase in their natural gas bills as a result of rates this winter heating season,” said Jorgan Hofeling, communications strategic adviser for Dominion.

But since that last rate increase came after the coldest months of winter, Utahns could still pay more this December through February than last year, particularly if we get a repeat of last winter. The March rate increase added about $8 a month to the average Utahn’s gas bill, Hofeling said.

Nationally, natural gas heating costs are expected to drop for consumers, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency’s Oct. 11 Winter Fuels Outlook. The EIA expects costs to decrease the most in the Western United States because of falling wholesale gas prices and an expected milder winter.

“Our forecast of regional winter natural gas expenditures declines by 30% in the West, more than in any other U.S. region, because we forecast less winter natural gas consumption in that region and lower natural gas prices,” EIA’s outlook says, noting that last year was the West region’s highest natural gas consumption in a decade.

Because it is a private company operating without competition, Dominion is regulated by the Utah Public Service Commission, which sets the rates that it can charge customers. And the PSC requires Dominion to pass along to customers any changes in the wholesale price it pays for gas, which can result in periodic rate adjustments up or down.

Hofeling said it is possible rates could fall in Utah. “However, market gas prices can be volatile and difficult to predict. Should the company realize savings associated with lower market gas prices, those savings will be passed on to customers as quickly as practical.”

As in past years, options exist for those Utahns who struggle to pay their energy costs in winter.

“In 2022, energy assistance programs helped almost 22,500 Dominion Energy customers by providing over $12 million in assistance toward their gas bills,” said Hofeling.

Customers of Dominion Energy and Rocky Mountain Power can apply for help from the state’s Home Energy Assistance Target (HEAT) program if their household income is less than 150% of the federal poverty level.

Those applying to the HEAT program may also be eligible for shut-off protection during the winter even if they are behind on their payments. From Nov. 15 to March 15, there is a moratorium on utility shutoffs for nonpayment for those who qualify. More details can be found at the Utah Department of Workforce Services website.

And Dominion also has a separate assistance program, called REACH, that is funded by contributions from Dominion customers and employees. That program is administered through the Salvation Army.