Matt Fielding sat on his porch as the Monday afternoon sun set behind his McGaheysville home.
The home, from the late 1930s to early 1940s, Fielding reckons isn’t the best at holding in the heat, which is fueled by propane, he said.
Typically, Fielding has to get his propane tank filled three times a year, starting in October, which cost him around $250 each time last year.
“Trust me, by mid-December, it’s cold enough to get another load,” he said.
But this year, the price to get more propane jumped $35, or 14%, for his typical order, according to Fielding.
“You can definitely see there’s a price difference there,” he said.
This winter, Americans will join Europeans and Asians in facing higher than typical fuel prices as the temperatures drop and T-shirts, shorts and tank tops are substituted for jackets, dungarees and long johns.
The 5% of American homes that primarily use propane for heat, like Fielding’s, are estimated to spend an average of 54% more on energy prices put together this winter than last, according to a U.S. Energy Information Administration report from October.
Homes using heating oil, about 4% of American households, are estimated to spend 43% more on average than last year, according to the report. The nearly half of American homes that use natural gas will spend on average more than 30% over last winter. Americans who heat their home with electricity, about 41%, are estimated to be impacted the least with only an average increased cost of 6% more this winter, according to the report.
The Harrisonburg Electric Commission had to adjust its rate midyear because it was losing money as the energy kept becoming more expensive, according to Brian O’Dell, HEC director.
For the last seven years, natural gas prices have been relatively low and continued downward until around April this year, according to O’Dell.
The U.S. is not alone in facing rising costs. Asia and Europe are also seeing climbing fuel prices.
The HEC increase is roughly $10 per month for the average household, according to O’Dell.
“Normally, those adjustments would have to be made in April, but we did have to make it midyear because the rate at which natural gas was increasing,” O’Dell said. He said he doesn’t remember another time HEC had to make a midyear rate adjustment over the past two decades.
The utility buys its energy from Dominion, which has been transitioning from coal-fired plants to natural gas. This has helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the state, such by the city of Harrisonburg, according to a greenhouse emission report.
O’Dell said that no matter what, the price would be reviewed again in April, and there is a chance it could go back down.
“A lot of that has to do with what the price does between now and [April] and the forecasts for next year,” O’Dell said.
The Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative is reviewing its rates as energy prices rise, according to spokesperson Preston Knight.
“We’re still working out projections and the general impact,” Knight said. “Like everyone else, we’re seeing that cost increase and pressure on us.”
SVEC gets its energy from the Old Dominion Electric Cooperative, according to Knight. At the beginning of the year, SVEC finds out from ODEC about potential credits that can be used by SVEC to offset costs to its own members. The first of the year would also bring changes to rates, if any are needed, according to Knight.
“Any change would likely be taking effect in January, and we’ll communicate that to our members once we are able to hone in on what the numbers actually look like,” Knight said.
Todd Holtzman, manager of Holtzman Propane, said despite higher prices for consumers and distributors, there will not be a shortage of propane. He said retailers like Holtzman Propane, part of Holtzman Corp., have “gone through a lot of trouble to ensure security of supply” through various methods such as bulk storage and contingency plans.
The Mount Jackson-based company also sells heating oil, gas and diesel..
“I think a lot of it is our political climate and our national energy policies,” Holtzman said. “And if the government would authorize the infrastructure we need, like the [Keystone XL] pipeline and not limit production, that would help us continue on a path of energy independence.”
The lack of the infrastructure, such as the canceled Keystone XL pipeline, makes it so the fuel needs to be transported by truck, he said.
There is a shortage of truckers that is a confluence of numerous factors, including increased demand for rapid home delivery of goods and a large cohort of older drivers beginning to retire, according to numerous previous interviews with trucking industry experts and truck drivers.
“We’ve already seen softening since Virginia’s election, and I think that Virginia has sent a message to the country that we’re not happy with the energy policy, among other things, and I think that’s going to affect some of the national energy policy and it should hopefully work in the direction of the consumer,” Holtzman said.
“A lot of people say it has to do with who’s in [presidential] office. I don’t know if you can really point to that too much,” he said.
Last time Fielding was at the pump, he had to pay $45 to fill up his car, when for a while it was $40.
“The prices of fossil fuels are continuing to rise, and it’s like costs in general for the average person,” he said before going back inside his home Monday. “It makes you wonder how far they’re going to go.”