Juneau's power bills could take a double hit this winter as heating oil prices are predicted to rise about 13 percent, and temperatures are forecast to be slightly colder.
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A U.S. Department of Energy report issued this week predicts heating oil prices will rise from an average $2.57 per gallon to $2.91 per gallon in Alaska and on the West Coast, the source of most of Juneau's refined oil supplies.
That's less than the 22 percent jump in prices predicted for the whole country, a number that reflects prices in the Northeast and Midwest.
Jim Cawdrey, a plant manager at Petro Marine Services, said Juneau's suppliers get most of their oil from Washington refineries, but companies also pay about 18 cents a gallon to transport the oil up here.
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"If it goes up 13 percent in Washington, it will go 13 percent here as well," Cawdrey said.
To top off worries, the National Weather Service is predicting a colder than average winter here because of a La Nina effect, which results from cooler-than-normal Pacific Ocean temperatures.
Jeff Hartman, who owns a house in Mendenhall Valley, said he expects a definite impact on his household's budget from the rising prices and has started thinking about conservation measures.
"Because we have dual fuel, oil and electric, I thought I'd look at the feasibility of space heating with electric, and my feeling is that we might have to look more into insulating our house," Hartman said.
Oil and electricity are costing about the same in Juneau, when one breaks down the price per unit of energy, according to Gayle Wood, director of consumer affairs at Alaska Light & Power Co.
"The biggest savings are found in the efficiency of the heating system, whether it uses oil or electricity," Wood said. "At this stage of the game, what a person does to be conservative with how they use those heating dollars is more important than the fuel source."
Wood said she doesn't anticipate another rate increase at the hydroelectric company before facilities at Lake Dorothy come online around 2010.
The Rural Alaska Community Action Program provides assistance to low-income people to increase their home's heating efficiency, called weatherization. Workers help about 30 homeowners a year in Juneau seal up drafty areas, install improved insulation and more efficient heating systems. Windows and doors also will be replaced if they are outdated enough to reap a payback.
Mark Lyman, program manager for the service, said all homeowners should think about having such an energy audit conducted on their homes.
"It's a known savings. It's worth every dollar you put it into it. You'll get the payback," Lyman said.
Homeowners also should consider installing locking caps on their oil tanks, said Juneau police Sgt. David Campbell. The Juneau Police Department received two reports of heating oil thefts last week, one from a 61-year-old woman who estimated her loss at $875, and another report of 100 gallons stolen.
"Where it's really kind of a horrible situation is when someone has their tank filled, they pay a $1,500 bill, and a week later, their tank is empty again," Campbell said.
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