Consumers have seldom — maybe never — known so clearly how they can save on their energy bills in a coming decade.
Due to massive new discoveries of supplies, domestic natural gas is expected to remain far cheaper than other fuels indefinitely.
More than six of every 10 homes in Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties are heated with natural gas — and thousands more can connect to a gas main now or will be able to soon.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s 2013 Annual Energy Outlook estimates natural gas will remain the cheapest residential fuel by far through the next decade — about half the price of propane and heating oil in 2022.
The government agency last fall estimated natural gas users in the Northeast would spend $1,010 to heat their homes from Oct. 1 to March 31 — $1,484 less than heating with oil and $1,723 less than with propane.
Folsom-based South Jersey Gas, the region’s natural gas utility, has embraced this energy outlook and has worked to expand its customer base.
Through improvements to its delivery system, it can now serve previously unreachable edges of its coverage area, such as West Cape May and the Villas section of Lower Township, said Jeffrey DuBois, president of South Jersey Gas.
Natural gas prices have been prompting people to convert from other fuels. The gas company added 6,000 customers in 2012 and expects another 5,500 this year.
The company has identified 150,000 potential customers in its seven-county region who are not yet using natural gas, nearly a third of whom are near existing mains. That makes possible infrastructure expansions less costly.
“We take a look at each particular area, do a cost-benefit analysis and determine whether it’s economical for us to run a main in that area,” DuBois said. “We have an entire sales force literally going door to door.”
South Jersey Industries, the parent of South Jersey Gas, does not expect energy trends to change anytime soon.
“We believe you’re going to continue to see the differential between oil, propane and natural gas, especially oil, driven more on a global economy where natural gas is now a domestic resource,” South Jersey Industries CEO Edward Graham said.
The expanded service area, however, will still leave many homeowners unable to switch to natural gas, at least for the near future.
While they’ll be stuck with costlier fuels, there are many other measures such homeowners can take to cut their monthly bills, including using state-subsidized programs such as home energy audits.
New Jersey’s Clean Energy Program says energy-efficient upgrades can save as much as 30 percent on energy costs.
One of the most cost-effective upgrades is insulation, said Chris Kolendorski, vice president of Absecon-based Greenlife Energy Solutions.
Kolendorski, 32, of Egg Harbor Township, sees energy leak from South Jersey homes every day — in the form of heat escaping into the sky through poorly insulated roofs and cold air sucked into houses through floors, cracks and crevices.
“You get the most bang for your buck by air sealing and insulating the top and bottom of the house,” he said. “People can replace an old furnace and upgrade with a 96 percent efficient one, thinking they’ll save 30 percent on their bills … but you’re doing nothing to retain it. You’re more efficiently heating the outdoors.”
When President Barack Obama called home insulation “sexy” in a December 2009 speech promoting energy efficiency, the company adopted the slogan on bumper stickers for its trucks.
Home insulation is one way the state Board of Public Utilities promotes efficiency.
One of the major state programs — Home Performance with ENERGY STAR — offers as much as $5,000 in financial incentives up to 50 percent of the cost of the improvements. The program starts with a home energy audit to track wasteful energy use.
“Only a couple of years ago, it was down to a $3,000 rebate,” Board of Public Utilities spokesman Greg Reinert said. “We raised it up because participation dropped off, possibly because of the economic downturn we had.”
Various options available to New Jersey homeowners, low-income residents and others provide subsidies to improve the efficiency of their residences, replace old, electricity-guzzling refrigerators and buy better light bulbs.
New Jersey has some of the highest electricity bills in the U.S. — less expensive only than Vermont, New York, New Hampshire and Connecticut in the lower 48 states, according to the New Jersey Energy Data Center, which is funded by the BPU.
Last summer, Jeff Taylor, 65, had two geothermal systems installed in his home in the Marmora section of Upper Township. The systems, which cost a total of about $40,000, use groundwater to help heat and chill the home, he said.
Taylor also had Greenlife Energy analyze and seal various air leaks in the house.
He received a $5,000 BPU rebate for the work.
Taylor said he is waiting to see what the full-year energy savings will be, although he expects about 30 percent.
“It could take me 10 years to 15 years to get any reasonable amount back, but my motivating factor was to immediately reduce my electric bill and reduce my carbon footprint … to take better care of the environment,” he said.
In South Jersey, the average Atlantic City Electric residential customer using 1,000 kilowatts pays about $182 per month. The national average for 1,000 kilowatts in 2012 was about $119.
New Jersey’s Clean Energy Program sells discounted Energy Star lighting online, including compact fluorescent light bulbs, which require a third or less of the energy of a traditional bulb. On a link from www.njcleanenergy.com, the store sells these standard bulbs starting at 95 cents.
The U.S. Department of Energy says the average consumer spends about $4.80 in electricity to operate a traditional incandescent bulb for a year. For the same amount of light, an Energy Star compact fluorescent bulb would cost $1.20.
“Just the light bulbs themselves, when you look at the cumulative effect, are a very large energy savings, which reduces capacity and congestion costs on the grid, which basically reduce everyone’s electric costs,” Reinert said.
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