Influenced by warm winter, energy costs fall in fourth quarter of 2011

Even though financial prospects may still be dim for some Maryland residents, many have received a break from their energy providers due to the warm winter experienced by homeowners in the region. 

Earlier this month, The Associated Press reported that Baltimore Gas and Electric customers would pay an average of 16 percent less – several hundred dollars less – on energy costs required to heat their homes this winter (from November 1 through March 31) than they had last year.

For example, gas customers who paid about $584 last year in heating costs are expected to pay $486 this year, while electric heat users should pay $1,040, compared with $1,240 one year earlier.

These figures are significantly lower than the costs paid by American consumers in 2008, when economic challenges were greater, energy costs were higher and winters less forgiving. According to NPR, consumers spent an average of $888 that winter in heating costs. These reduced energy costs are welcomed by consumers who may feel burdened by spiking gasoline prices and other less-than-favorable economic indicators.

According to a Deutsche Bank study cited by The Los Angeles Times, Americans spent less on electricity in the fourth quarter than they did in the third quarter – $163 billion compared with $175 billion. This is an unusual trend considering the high cost of heating homes in the winter.

"No doubt, this will provide a substantial buffer to rising gasoline prices, which is why we do not want to become too pessimistic on first half consumer spending," Deutsche Bank economist Joseph LaVorgna wrote in the report.

As spring arrives, homeowners may want to begin preparing for next winter, when unseasonal temperature may not be as common. By hiring a home inspection service to conduct an energy audit, consumers will be able to create energy-efficient homes through enhanced cost-cutting features.