Winter Weather…We’ve Got This
America’s natural gas utilities prepare all year long for winter weather and storms.
As AGA’s President and CEO Karen Harbert says, “Our job is to prepare for the coldest day of the year, and we do that the other 364 days.”
This preparation rests on three pillars: infrastructure, gas supply, and the customers themselves.
America’s natural gas utilities spend $33 billion each year on enhancing the safety of the natural gas delivery system. This spending has more than tripled the mileage of pipe made from more modern materials in a system stretching more than 2.6 million miles of pipeline. Because of the investments and hard work by natural gas utilities in helping to ensure the industry’s infrastructure is reliable, only one customer in 800 will experience an unplanned gas outage in any given year.
Strong infrastructure is the nervous system of the natural gas industry, and the natural gas that flows within it is the vital blood that keeps American homes warm. Fortunately, natural gas utilities are in an excellent position in maintaining a consistent supply here as well. The United States is the world’s top producer of natural gas and produces it more affordably and with lower emissions than almost anywhere else on the planet. This means that AGA member companies purchase natural gas for far less than their counterparts in Europe or Asia. They then apply additional hedging techniques to help ensure supply while keeping prices affordable for families and businesses. These techniques can be physical, like purchasing natural gas and storing it in salt caves or other storage facilities so they have enough on hand when demand jumps during a cold snap. It can also be contractual hedging, in which utilities buy most of their natural gas ahead of time on the futures market, with the remainder bought as needed on the spot market the day or week it is required.
Ensuring that customers don’t have to worry about their ability to afford heating is a top priority for America’s natural gas utilities. Natural gas is the most affordable way to heat homes. According to the United States Energy Information Administration (EIA), heating with natural gas is 3.3 times as affordable as heating with electricity. The industry works tirelessly to ensure customers have the energy they need at affordable prices. AGA advocates for, and typically secures, increased funding for the Low-Income Household Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which provides grants to states and recognized tribes that are used to help low-income families pay for heating and cooling. AGA member companies spend $4.3 million every day on energy efficiency programs to help customers buy more efficient appliances, weatherize their homes, and lower both bills and greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, companies have a variety of payment plans and assistance to help those who need it, and every AGA member suspends disconnections for nonpayment during the winter heating season.
Cost is not the only area where natural gas utilities focus on their customers. Keeping people informed on what to expect, how to prepare, and what to do in the event of an emergency is a major priority for natural gas utilities before and during extreme winter weather. While programs like LIHEAP are fantastic, customers need to know they exist to be able to take advantage of them. Companies work hard to help ensure that customers understand what resources exist and how to access them. Natural gas utilities aren’t the only messengers during extreme weather events. AGA members work closely with their regulators and community representatives to ensure that everyone has the most up to date information available.
Thanks to the hard work put in the other 364 days of the year, America’s natural gas utilities are ready for extreme weather, and will continue to work to ensure that their customers continue to receive safe, reliable and affordable energy every day.