Skyrocketing natural gas prices make winterization crucial

September 19, 2003

University Park, Pa. -- With headlines warning of natural gas price hikes as high as 50 percent later this year, a Penn State energy expert urges agricultural producers to start winterizing their properties right away.

"Many signs are pointing toward a dramatic increase in the price of natural gas this autumn," warns Dennis Buffington, professor of agricultural and biological engineering. "The reason for the price increase is a simple case of supply versus demand. Demand for natural gas is at an all-time high because it is very convenient to use and it is a clean-burning fossil fuel. Demand is pushed even higher because natural gas increasingly is being used to generate electricity. Natural gas is generally regarded as the environmental fuel of choice."

The federal government has encouraged the use of natural gas throughout all sectors of our economy, according to Buffington, who notes that the supply of natural gas is limited because of federal environmental restrictions on developing new sources and tapping known natural gas reserves on federal lands. He points out that the amount of natural gas in storage in April 2003 was at the lowest level since record-keeping began.

"Don't relax and feel smug about the price increases in natural gas if you rely upon heating oil, coal or propane to heat your farm and home," Buffington cautions. "When the price of one fuel goes up, the prices of fuel alternatives invariably increase. Furthermore, the prices of many of the products you purchase will increase when the price of natural gas increases. For example, the price of fertilizer is correlated with the price of natural gas because the production of fertilizer depends heavily upon natural gas. And the price of your motor fuels likely will increase with a dramatic increase in the price of natural gas."

Buffington describes the price increases in energy as a good news/bad news situation. "The bad news, of course, is that both directly and indirectly, your operating expenses will increase," he says. "The good news is that you easily can save 20 to 30 percent or more of your total energy expenses by implementing energy conservation practices around the home and farm. Many opportunities are available now for conserving energy with economically feasible alternatives for lighting, heating, refrigeration, motor and appliance use, and water heating."

Buffington suggests reducing energy losses through windows and doors by installing storm windows and doors and using lots of weather-stripping and caulk. "When purchasing new motors and appliances, be sure to look for the Energy Star symbol on the accompanying paperwork to ensure that the new products are energy-efficient," he says. "Don't wait until you see frost on your pumpkins -- begin winterizing today."

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 19, 2009