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Mitchell heating costs slightly over average

As cold weather continues, the bill battle to keep homes warm wages on.

But according to Northwestern Energy, the main provider of natural gas to homes in Mitchell, heating bills aren’t that much higher than they were a year ago.

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Tom Glanzer, spokesman for Northwestern Energy, said the average natural gas bill for the state of South Dakota from the dates of Dec. 15, 2013, to Jan. 15, 2014, was $127.02. That’s up from the $107.27 from the same time frame from the year before. But the weather has also been colder, with an average temperature for the 2014 period of 10.8 degrees, while the year prior was a bit higher at 17 degrees.

“Honestly, $20 isn’t that much,” Glanzer said. “The average home is using about 30 more therms per month than they were last year.”

Therms are the measurement unit for natural gas, which is measured by volume. One therm is essentially the energy equivalent of burning 100 cubic feet of natural gas and Glanzer said the price of natural gas per therm has gone up by 3 cents over last year.

Overall, Northwestern Energy serves about 45,000 natural gas customers in South Dakota and serves 7,700 customers in the Mitchell area with natural gas. Glanzer said that if one was to buy propane at the current natural gas price, it would cost 73 cents per gallon. Because many customers know it can be dangerously cold during the winter in South Dakota, he said many customers are prepared if their bill jumps.

“When you look at what a typical bill is and when you look at the value of that compared to what the average family pays for a cell phone bill on a monthly basis, it’s a pretty reasonable price,” Glanzer said of natural gas.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said recently that energy costs in the Midwest region of the country went up by 3.4 percent after six consecutive months of declines in cost and attributed most of the cost rise to a 3.8 percent jump in motor fuel prices in January.

Propane problems throughout the country have gotten a lot of talk but for now, the price has come down considerably. Since a high of $4.11 on Jan. 27, the price has now fallen under $3 and was recorded at $2.80 per gallon in South Dakota on Feb. 24, according to weekly price data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That’s the third-lowest average price among 11 Midwest states last week, behind Nebraska and Iowa. The national price of propane was still $3.48 last week, up $1.16 from where it was a year ago.

Some of that credit is going to state governments, who have loosened many trucking requirements to make the shipping of propane easier, as much of the propane supply comes from southern states.