Higher gas bills won't "go away," but you can lower your costs |  CBC News

Higher gas bills won’t “go away,” but you can lower your costs | CBC News

About half of Canadian homes are heated by gas furnaces, and energy analysts say those homeowners should get used to the idea that gas prices won’t fall back to the lows seen in recent years.

Although winter hasn’t arrived yet, another new cost facing Canadians already battered by months of inflation in the prices of food and many other goods and services is higher utility bills.

“It depends on where you are in Canada, but generally it’s about a 30 percent increase in your energy bill,” said Jackie Forrest, executive director of the ARC Energy Research Institute in Calgary.

“And I would expect it not to go away.

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Natural gas, which is mostly methane, a fossil fuel, is widely used to heat homes from western Ontario, while electricity and oil are the primary sources of heating for homes from Quebec to Atlantic Canada.

While several factors contribute to rising natural gas prices, experts say there are steps homeowners can take to lower their heating bills — including, for some, turning off gas altogether.

“There are actually a number of things that can be done without spending a lot of money,” said Violet Kopperson, an energy consultant with the Center for Contingency Ecology in Aurora, Ont., north of Toronto.

WATCH | What Canadians are doing to lower energy costs as gas prices rise:

Canadians expected to pay more to heat their homes this winter

Keeping your home warm could be a bigger part of Canadians’ budgets this winter as natural gas prices begin to rise. Experts say Canada is selling its natural gas abroad because of global demand, which is putting pressure on domestic supply.

Price fluctuations, war and exports

This summer, natural gas prices in Canada rose to about nine dollars apiece gigajoule (GJ), about three and a half times the average rate over the past six years, says Forrest, an energy analyst with 25 years experience.

They’ve moderated recently, but he says they won’t return to the average of about $2.90 per GJ that Canadians have become accustomed to since about 2016.

“I think the last six years have been an unusual period where we’ve had very cheap gas. I don’t think that’s the future,” Forrest said.

Jackie Forrest, executive director of the ARC Energy Research Institute in Calgary, says higher natural gas prices are “not going away.” (Colin Hall/CBC)

For several years, there was high natural gas production in North America and, she explained, negligible levels of exports.

Recently, however, North American natural gas producers have increased their exports. The change comes in part because of greater demand from European nations that have cut ties with Russia over its invasion of Ukraine or have been cut off from Russian by Vladimir Putin in retaliation for economic sanctions.

While about 10 percent of North American production is currently exported, Forrest says exports will continue to grow.

“We’ll be sending about 20 percent of North American production overseas by the end of this decade,” she said, adding that she doesn’t see the industry ramping up production to keep prices under control.

“We’re going to have structurally higher gas prices than we’ve had,” she said, “so that really changes the dynamics of the North American gas markets.”

Your bill and tips to lower it

There’s more to a gas bill than the price of gas, notes Forrest.

“Energy costs are only about one-third of your bill. You have other things like distribution and transmission charges and you have carbon prices and things like that.”

However, there are simple ways to reduce this complicated heating bill.

Violet Kopperson is an energy consultant at the Center for Unexpected Ecology in Aurora, Ont. He says there are many things a homeowner can do to lower their gas bills without much expense. (James Dunne/CBC)

Kopperson, whose job it is to assess homes for energy efficiency and provide advice to homeowners, has plenty of tips.

Simple cheap actions include things like:

  • Lowering the thermostat while you sleep.
  • Ensure exterior doors are weather sealed and swept to prevent heat loss.
  • Seals around small holes for cable lines and vents.
  • Change your washrooms to low flow shower heads.

A low-flow shower is cheaper because “the more hot water you use, the more energy you use,” Kopperson said.

More expensive changes may include upgrading to triple-glazed windows and adding insulation to attics or walls.

Gas release with subsidies

Kopperson also recommends homeowners look to the federal government grants and loans to improve the energy efficiency of your home, which can offset some of these renovation costs. Some provinces and cities also have financial incentives for retrofitting.

Suzanne Kettley of Ottawa is switching her home from natural gas to heat pumps and electricity. It wanted to reduce its carbon footprint and also hopes to avoid high natural gas prices. (Toni Choueiri/CBC)

Suzanne Kettley of Ottawa uses these programs to improve her home’s energy efficiency and completely shut off gas.

Jen replaced her furnace with a heat pump to keep her home cozy in the winter and cool in the summer. It will soon add a hybrid water heater that uses a heat pump and electricity to heat water.

“I’m lucky because while I’m reducing my carbon footprint, I’m also avoiding higher gas prices.”

He also hopes to see long-term savings from dealing with just one energy company and one form of energy electricity.

“If I’m paying delivery fees and administration fees, if I’m only paying them once to one company, then it’s going to be cheaper.”

Part of the new heat pump system outside Kettley’s house in Ottawa. (Toni Choueiri/CBC)

High prices are relative

As prices rise in Canada, consumers may find little relief in the fact that the situation here is not as bad as in Europe.

There, governments have asked people to reduce consumption and limit the temperature of their homes, while some businesses have reduced working hours or even closed due to higher heating costs.

This week the leaders of the European Union they discussed but failed to reach an agreement on limiting gas pricesalthough 15 EU countries supported the idea earlier this year.

The new European market for North American gas means that Canada is no longer a “bottleneck island” where gas supplies have nowhere to go but domestic and American consumption.

“We’re more influenced by what’s going on in the rest of the world,” Forrest said.

“We still have cheap energy, but it’s not as cheap as we’re used to.”

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