After an unusually warm fall, Alaska’s urban core is heading into the winter season looking wholly unseasonable, but there could be a Christmas bonus for homeowners hidden in the picture.
National Weather Service (NWS) records indicate heating degree days in the state’s largest city are down almost 32 percent from normal for the period from July 1 through Tuesday. Heating degree days provide the yardstick the NWS uses to measure energy use to heat buildings.
The warm weather should have cut your home use of natural gas by about a third, and thus produced a similar drop in your fuel bill.
The average monthly cost for natural gas in the Anchorage Metro area last year was just over $158 per month, according to the Regulatory Commission of Alaska, the state entity that oversees utilities.
At that rate, the average homeowner on an annual payment plan would have paid Enstar about $710 to date. But given that this year has been far from normal, about a third less gas should have been used, and your bill should have dropped accordingly.
A 32 percent change would drop the amount the average homeowner actually owes Enstar Natural Gas as of this date to a hair over $484, resulting in an average savings of $227 – enough to buy a new pair of ski boots for Christmas.
That’s a pretty nice Christmas blessing to make up for the unChristmas-like weather. The savings could, of course, disappear if January, February and March turn brutally cold, but that is not expected. The National Climate Center says there is a 40 to 50 percent probability Alaska weather will be above normal at least through February.
And by then things are starting to warm up.
If the climate prediction proves true, Anchorage area residents should be saving on their home heating bills all winter, but even if the weather returns to the NWS’s climatological “normal” – the average of the 20 years from 1981 to 2010 – the average homeowner will still be $225 ahead.
The only way consumers lose is if the winter months prove unusually cold compared to normal, and no one is predicting that in these days of global warming.
Actual savings will, of course, depend on the size of your home and how well it is insulated. Poorly insulated homes require more energy to heat then well-insulated homes. Large homes generally require more energy than small homes.
If your normal, annualized monthly gas bill is $100, you will have saved only about $144 to date. If your bill is $300 a month, you should have saved more than $430 on gas so far.
The biggest savings came during July and August when Anchorage saw record temperatures. A lot of people just turned off the heat in their homes because it was unnecessary.
Heating degree days were down 78 percent in July and 61 percent in August, but since little gas is burned in those months even in normal years, the change doesn’t mean much. What does is the 24 to 32 percent month drop in heating needs from September to now.
Every one of those months saw temperatures above normal, which was good for driving down gas bills but not so good for winter sports that depend on snow and cold. The Alyeska Resort in Girdwood – Alaska’s major ski area – has opened thanks to snowmaking, but the lower mountain looks bleak.
Still, for those willing to drive in search of snow, winter can be found to the north. Cross-country skiers reported good skiing at Independence Mine in Hatcher Pass above Palmer, and skaters say there are miles of good ice in the Nancy Lakes Recreation Area near Willow.
And the weather service is forecasting temperatures in Anchorage could drop to 10 degrees below zero by Friday night and into Saturday. The city hasn’t seen the temperature dip below zero since January, and then it bottomed out at 7 degrees below.