The Energy Source that May Be Right for Your School

May 16, 2014

The recession and the sudden abundance of natural gas helped depress energy prices over the last few years. But that run appears to be over and prices are expected to rise this winter for 9 out of 10 households.

According to the Energy Information Administration, the statistical arm of the U.S. Department of Energy, the cost to heat with natural gas will rise 14 percent this winter in the northeastern United States. Propane is forecast for a 3 percent increase in the Northeast and electric heat is forecast for a 2 percent increase. Only heating oil, already the most expensive conventional form of heat is expected to drop in cost this winter, by about 5 percent a gallon.

Still, natural gas is half as expensive as propane and oil. Electric heat is slightly more expensive than natural gas heat. Rising prices means there will be a premium on cutting energy costs this winter.

            But it also means positioning your school for the long-term future. The Energy Information Administration is projecting ( that natural gas will remain far less costly than oil through 2040. Obviously, that includes a lot of assumptions, primarily a steady increase in natural gas production, thanks to advances in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technology that have newly opened up natural gas reservoirs in shale and tight sand formations.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that natural gas will remain at half the heating cost of oil for the next few decades. But the consensus is that that not much will change in the coming decade, and that should encourage serious thought about whether to convert from oil to gas. For instance, a consultant to this ( school district in Maine projected that it could cover the $80,500 cost to convert boilers from oil to gas heat in one winter.

            Then there’s the ( experience of the Ephrata Area School District in Pennsylvania. The district expects to save $30,000 a year, enough to recoup the cost of its share to extend gas lines and convert boilers to natural gas heat in a little over three years.

         There is, of course, the question of whether or not your school – or business or home, for that matter — is served by a natural gas line running underneath an adjacent, and getting one extended to your property can be expensive. Normally, it can cost into the thousands of dollars to get an extension that serves a neighborhood. No taxpayer subsidy exists in Pennsylvania for such an extension, although ( a modest one is under consideration in the Pennsylvania Legislature, as is a companion bill that would require utilities to at least create plans to expand their pipelines.

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