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Higher heat bills ahead

WASHINGTON – After a summer of soaring gasoline costs, people should not expect cooler weather in autumn to end their energy woes. Prices at the gas pump probably will stay high and record heating bills in the winter are almost certain to follow.

The Energy Department predicts that heating costs for homes using natural gas or fuel oil could be 16 percent to 25 percent higher than last year. That estimate came before the latest price spike in crude oil and natural gas.

Already, drivers are reeling from gasoline prices that are approaching $3 a gallon in some areas and averaging $2.55 a gallon nationwide. Prices are expected to ease after Labor Day, but not by much, analysts predict, as crude oil prices remain above $60 a barrel.

Utilities are warning customers that their bills will be high this winter, says Chris McGill of the American Gas Association.

Wholesale prices for natural gas have soared along with crude oil and gasoline.

A little more than half of U.S. homes use natural gas for heating; the heaviest concentration is in the Midwest.

About 9 percent use fuel oil, mostly in the Northeast. The rest use electricity, with a small number relying on propane. The cost of these fuels is rising, too.

People are being hit with a “triple whammy,” said David Fox, executive director of the Campaign for Home Energy Assistance. “I see a very difficult winter ahead.”


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