North Texans can breathe a sigh of relief, at least for now: Natural gas and electricity bills are forecast to be lower this winter.
Last winter's record snow storms put the fear in people, when it came time to pay their heating bills. Unless Mother Nature hits like that again, it should be a different story this year.
Natural gas rates are about 15 percent lower than they were at this time last year, so the average Atmos Energy customer should see his or her bill drop about $17 per month through February. Customers can thank a warmer winter forecast and the large amount of gas in storage.
"It's abundant. We're seeing a lot of production from the shale plays and Barnett Shale and Marcellus Shale and others that have produced more gas in the market," said David Park, Atmos Energy's vice president of rates and regulatory affairs.
A high supply and low demand, because of warmer temperatures throughout the country, leads to lower prices. And consumers are learning to help themselves.
"We're seeing our customers become more efficient year after year after year by using gas, upgrading their appliances, weatherizing their homes, things like that," Park said.
Electric customers also should save money this winter. About half of the electricity in Texas is made by natural gas generating plants, so lower gas prices translates into lower electricity prices.
But lower rates won't last forever. Energy analysts predict natural gas and electricity prices will rise in 2012.