Budgeting for extra heating costs

Saturday, October 18th 2008, 5:17 pm
By: News 9

By Dan Bewley, for NEWS 9 

TULSA, OK - Cooler temperatures have many getting ready to fire up furnaces for the first time this season.  Analysts said residents should expect to pay 15% more this year to heat homes.  That has some wondering if they should lock in their natural gas rates for the winter.

It all depends on what you're looking for.  Do you want a set price to help with your budget?  Or, are you willing to take a chance the price of gas will drop and potentially save you money?

Homeowners are prepping for a change of season.  With it comes a decision about how to pay for the cost of natural gas.  Fliers from Oklahoma Natural Gas lay out one option.  Called the Voluntary Fixed Price Plan, it's a set rate that locks you in to the same price every month, regardless of whether the actual cost for ONG goes up or down.

"Its purpose is to be another tool to give people a sense of control. It has a mixed record in that respect. Some years it has generated a cost savings to customers.  In other years, customers enrolled in the program have actually paid a little bit more," said Don Sherry with Oklahoma Natural Gas.

For some, the constant price helps with their budget.

"Instead of having a fluctuating cost it would be good to have a good set number," said Tulsan Adam Brazeal.

The only catch is the price was set back in late spring when ONG bought the gas.  The company expected the cost to keep rising, making the locked-in rate a good deal.  However, the cost of natural gas hasn't gone any higher and analysts expect it to drop slightly. 

A spokesman for ONG said if customers are only looking to save money the fixed-price plan may not be the best option.  Instead they suggest to just pay what ONG pays and that price is getting smaller.

"If it does continue that means our average cost of gas, again what customers pay, could actually decline and it may prove to be a better deal.  But, since we don't have the perfect crystal ball, we can't actually say," said ONG's Don Sherry.

Tulsan Bill Lesnett is willing to gamble a bit and decided to hold off on the fixed-price plan.

"So, I'm going to take a chance that it doesn't go up," said Bill Lesnett.

The deadline to register for the fixed rate plan is next Friday.  If you sign up, it's for one year only from November until October of next year.

Don Sherry with ONG said he expects the price of natural gas this winter to be similar to what was paid last year.