Opinion Editorial

Column: Utility bills expected to be higher this winter

Thomas Flaherty Sr.

By Thomas Flaherty Sr.

There is no way to sugar-coat it. Westfield residents and businesses can expect to pay up to 25 percent more for their heating bill this winter than last. We are heading into winter on the brink of a global energy crisis, after a year of increased natural gas demand and low supply. Prices are skyrocketing in response, which unfortunately means we could face some of the highest utility bills in years.

Among many other factors, extreme weather events have led to the current situation. Abnormally cold winters in Europe, Asia, and the deep freeze in Texas caused extreme demand for natural gas and liquified natural gas for heating. Global heat waves over the summer increased the need for cooling above the levels we usually see. The elevated demand for natural gas all year long meant that gas stores were not replenished over the summer months, like they usually are.

Liquified natural gas prices have hit record highs in Asia and Europe in response to these record-low storage levels. If they have a particularly cold winter, these regions will vie for the limited LNG supplies. Since global demand ultimately affects the price we pay for winter gas in Westfield, we are increasingly concerned about prices if our weather is fierce in the coming months.

At Westfield Gas & Electric, reliability is our top priority. Each season, we work hard to secure adequate power to meet the needs of the community. The energy supply team makes careful choices and locks in pricing in advance to help keep prices low. With the tight balance between natural gas supply and demand and higher prices for electricity, we are already anticipating that this will be a challenge this year. Current wholesale pricing is the highest it has been heading into winter in the past 12 years. To help reduce spikes in customer bills, we have made gradual increases to the gas and electric supply charge over the last few months. We will continue doing everything we can to provide stable supply and pricing in Westfield.

While the temperature outside is still pleasantly warm, we encourage you to prepare for higher energy bills. All customers can benefit by reducing usage and planning ahead.

1. Sign up for a budget payment plan. Spread out natural gas and electric payments over a 10-month period to avoid the spikes that winter heating bills will bring. Call our customer service team at 413-572-0100 to get started.

2. Use energy more efficiently. Control your energy use and reduce your monthly natural gas bills by using energy wisely.

• Insulate doors and windows

• Purchase energy-efficient appliances

• Install automatic set-back thermostats

• Schedule a free home energy audit at 1-866-403-7960

• Make an appointment to get your furnace inspected (call WG&E at 413-572-0100)

3. Apply for assistance paying your energy bills. WG&E continues to work with various agencies to assist residential customers in financial need. Please call our office at 413-572-0100 to find out if you may qualify for any fuel assistance options.

No one likes to hear that their bills will be increasing, and it is not a message I particularly like to share. That being said, this is likely the case for all of us this winter and it is best to be prepared.

Thomas Flaherty Sr. is the general manager of Westfield Gas & Electric and Whip City Fiber.

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