To keep heating costs down, Kinesiology senior Leah Ketcheson and her seven roommates have instituted various heat-saving strategies around the house. She said her housemates turn down the thermostat during the day when they are out, and last year, they sealed the cracks around the windows.
More money spent on heating bills “would mean less money for miscellaneous things,” Ketcheson said.
As winter begins, students are seeking the warmth of indoors. But this year, relief from the cold may be much more expensive.
The cost of natural gas will be about 20 percent higher this year than last year according to Len Singer, spokesman for DTE Energy.
Singer said the rise in fuel prices is primarily a result of limitations in supply and increases in demand of fuel.
On the supply side, the domestic production of natural gas has declined in recent years.
“The natural gas is essentially running out in the wells,” Singer said. The new gas supplies being found are not as large as expected, and government controls and environmental concerns limit the amount of off-shore gas exploration, he added.
Michigan currently relies on natural gas mainly from Western states, western Canada and the Gulf of Mexico. Environmental regulations and limits on gas importation can raise costs and inhibit the development of new natural gas sources, especially hard-to-reach off-shore deposits.
On the demand side, natural gas is now “the most common fuel used in home heating,” Singer said. Demand for natural gas is high year-round due to its use in the production of electricity, and higher during the winter months.
A typical home uses two-thirds of its total natural gas consumption between December and March. This year, mid-range customers will see their heating bills rise from about $580 for four months to $690, or an increase of about $25 to $30 a month, Singer said.
To deal with such costs, Ketcheson’s landlord installed a system to help heat the house better and cleaned out the air vents, making the heating system more efficient.
This measure, and the strategies passed by Ketcheson and her roommatesm are exactly the right measures to take, according to Diane Brown, the University’s spokeswoman for facilities and operations. Other methods for reducing heating bills this winter include closing windows, repairing broken heaters and just wearing an extra sweater, she added.
For every degree the thermostat is lower, a homeowner saves 3 percent on his heating bill, Singer said.
The University is also attempting to lower its heating bills, although on a much larger scale. South Quad Residence Hall alone uses nearly $200,000 in steam, made from natural gas, each year and $280,000 in electricity — enough to provide 250 typical homes with natural gas and 400 homes with electricity for a year, according to Bill Verge, associate director for utilities and plant engineering.
The University’s power plant uses natural gas to provide steam to heat the Central and Medical campuses. The University also purchases any additional natural gas in advance, which protects it from the rising costs. “If you had to go buy it, it would be much, much more expensive than what we are able to do here,” Brown said.
Nevertheless, this year’s expenditure on natural gas will be about $34 million, up about $2.4 million from last year, and next year, the University is likely to spend at least $38 million, Verge said.
The University’s ability to buy large quantities of natural gas in advance means that this year’s budget will not be dramatically affected by the rising prices, but if the trend continues, the University will have to seek more money. In the face of rising heating bills for both students and the University as a whole, Brown said, “anything we can turn off saves us.”