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Winter Of Our Discontent?


Summer may be in full bloom, but winter's costs just around the corner.

Amid warm August weather, it's difficult to imagine winter's bitter cold. But the home heating season is only 4 months away, and by the looks of it, it's going to be one of the most expensive ever.

Despite the recent dip in oil and natural gas prices, experts agree that next year's heating bills will exceed last year's, according to the New York Times. In past years, fuel providers offered customers locked-in rates during summer months to help ease the transition into winter. But with energy costs oscillating wildly, most oil and gas companies aren't offering these kinds of plans. Unless you happen to live in Southern California or Florida, it may make sense to start saving - or consider moving to Boca.

The Northeast will likely be hit the hardest, where oil is the heating fuel of choice for most households. Heating oil costs are up 36% from last year; for people living in New England, bills may go up as much as $1,500, according to government forecasts. While the price for natural gas has come down modestly in recent weeks, it's still up 11% from last year. Electricity prices also remain higher than usual.

Experts and government officials remain deadlocked on whether or not more U.S. drilling would help consumers. But a new study from the Consumer Federation of America asserts that domestic drilling would most certainly help big oil. Companies like Exxon-Mobil (XOM) and Chevron (CVX), who already reported record profits this quarter, could continue to sell the domestic oil at global rates. That doesn't necessarily mean cheaper heat for the everyman.

With very few energy alternatives, consumers will have to plan ahead. And planning they are, with gasoline consumption down 2.4% in the last month alone. But if you happen to have any solar panels lying around, now might be a smart time to start using them. Or wind turbines. Or hamsters in wheels.

For more on the costs and benefits of alternative energy, check out Hoofy and Boo's always astute report.

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