Nebraskans see heating bills rise in winter cold

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LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Most Nebraska residents are seeing higher heating bills because this winter's bitterly cold weather sent natural gas prices up as more of the heating fuel was consumed.

Natural gas prices are up near their five-year highs because of the strong demand, the Lincoln Journal Star reported Sunday (http://bit.ly/1hCPNlw ).

James Martin of Lincoln said his latest bill of $142 is nearly double the $82 bill he paid at the same time last year.

And Martin even added insulation, installed a new furnace and took other steps to weatherize his home two years ago.

Black Hills Energy said this winter has been about 10 percent colder than normal and 23 percent colder than last year. The utility serves about 200,000 customers in eastern Nebraska.

"When temperatures are exceptionally low and usage increases dramatically, the law of supply and demand can create a temporary increase in commodity prices," said Jeff Sylvester, vice president for Black Hills' Nebraska operations.

David Turner said the higher heating cost hurts his budget. Turner said his bill is about $20 higher than last year.

"They keep raising prices, but nobody's getting raises to pay for the increases," Turner said.

Black Hills Energy spokeswoman Brandy Johnson said natural gas costs represent about 60 to 70 percent of a customer's bill, and when the price of natural gas increases, that is passed through.

The utility contracts for as much as 70 percent of its natural gas supplies for winter months ahead of time, but the rest of the supply is bought monthly between November and March.

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Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com

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