Milder temperatures should cut heating bills this winter, as few expect a return of the deep freeze that chilled much of the nation last year.
Most residents will save money because they won't crank up the heat as much. Users of heating oil and propane will get an extra discount from lower fuel prices, according to the Energy Department's annual prediction of winter heating costs.
In Marion County, residential customers of Citizens Energy Group should expect lower bills from November through March, assuming normal weather and typical usage, according to the utility. Last winter's extreme cold resulted in the average Citizens gas bill of $680. If this winter runs along temperature norms, the average bill will be about $607.
"Temperatures are forecast to be warmer than last winter and that means less demand for heat," said Adam Sieminski, administrator of the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration, in a written statement.
Last year, persistently low temperatures across the Midwest, South and East forced people to use more heat. The price of some fuels, such as propane, soared because of shortages.
This year, everyone is likely to get at least a little break on their bills from the weather, and some residents will see substantial price declines, too. Heating oil prices are the lowest they've been in four years, and propane prices have fallen far from their peaks last winter.
Prices for natural gas and electricity should be higher this winter. But the combined 88 percent of U.S. households that rely on them for heat should still see lower bills because of lower demand —assuming the weather cooperates.