* Wood

Many homeowners who’ve moved off heating oil have turned to burning cordwood and pellets, according to Lisa Smith at the Governor’s Energy Office.

Thirteen percent of Maine homes now rely on wood heat, the second-highest rate in the country, as counted by the 2010 U.S. Census.

Smith only started tracking wood-pellet prices two years ago, and during that time, prices have risen 6 percent, from $240 per delivered ton to $254. The price is relatively stable, she said.

Cordwood has only been informally tracked, now estimated at $285 per cord, which is also relatively stable. Too many individuals sell from their woodlots to officially survey wood heat prices, Smith said.

* Natural gas

Five percent of Maine homes rely on natural gas heat. Tracked by the state for the past 16 months, natural gas crawled to a high of $2.03 per therm, on average, last winter and now sits at $1.25.

Going into this heating season, it’s 20 cents per therm lower than it was this time last year, on average.

“Right now, it’s low,” Smith said. “Residential customers are somewhat insulated, at least the residential customers who lock in a certain price ahead of time.”

Prices and options vary a fair amount by supplier: Bangor Gas doesn’t offer a lock-in rate. Summit Natural Gas has a lock-in rate for one year. Unitil has summer and winter rates. Maine Natural Gas offers a lock-in price or a monthly variable rate.

Natural gas companies buy fuel and reserve space on the pipeline ahead of time, giving it some stability, Smith said. “Electric generators do not. They just hope that there will be excess gas that (industrial) users who have bought can sell to them, and, if it’s a cold winter, there isn’t anything to sell.”

* Electricity

Five percent of Maine homes rely on electricity for heat. Any increase there in recent years is likely from more people switching to energy-efficient heat pumps, Smith said.

The last standard offer, the electricity price set by the Public Utilities Commission that most Mainers rely on, was set during a favorable price stretch, she said. It’s up again this December.

“I think it just depends on how cold it gets and for how long,” Smith said. “Electricity, we still have significant capacity constraints and that has significantly changed from last year.”

* Propane

For the past five years, propane has mostly stayed between $2.50 and $3 per gallon, with the exception of the spring of 2014, when it shot up to over $3.50 a gallon. Entering this heating season, it sits at $2.19.

It’s a particularly tough fuel to forecast, Smith said. Among its issues: How the propane gets up into New England (boat, rail or truck), what the weather’s like, how cold it’s been and even whether Midwest farmers need more of it to dry their crops.

“We always seem to make it work and get folks enough fuel, but the price can fluctuate,” she said.

* Kerosene

Kerosene prices, right now $2.61 a gallon, are the lowest they’ve been in 10 years, Smith said.

“Chances are that prices this low won’t be sustained, but I don’t see them rising to close to $4 anytime soon,” she said. “There is just too much supply out there; inventories are very high, and demand globally is flat. Just not conditions in which one would see significant price increases.”

It generally tracks with oil, she said.

The current best bang for the heating buck, according to Smith’s office: natural gas, followed by cordwood, heating oil, wood pellets, kerosene, propane and then electric (baseboard) heat.

Her best advice: Diversify if you haven’t already.

“With propane, natural gas and electricity transmission (versus local distribution), we are at the end of the line, with inadequate infrastructure to get it here efficiently and inexpensively,” Smith said. “Wood is the only heating fuel that we grow here and isn’t affected by infrastructure constraints of some kind; however, if we have a long, cold winter, pellets are in short supply.”

She added, “Oil is imported and is transported efficiently via ship, but we are exposed to often volatile prices. That’s probably why a surprising number of Mainers have more than one heating source. They stock up on whatever fuel is less expensive for that season. Pretty savvy.”

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