New Brunswick

Homeowners see jump in heating prices from last winter

From propane to electricity and natural gas to oil most major heating sources in the province have climbed in price to some extent. And where prices themselves didn't move a lot, like with wood pellets, New Brunswick's mid year boost in the HST made sure bills would be higher anyway.

The average New Brunswick household consumes about 13 gigajoules of heat energy each January

Firewood is still the least expensive fuel when it comes to winter heating in New Brunswick. (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC)

Except for those cutting fuelwood from their own backyard stand of hardwood virtually all New Brunswick homeowners are facing higher winter heating prices this January over last winter figures show – some by a significant amount. 

From propane to electricity and natural gas to oil most major heating sources in the province have climbed in price to some extent. 

And where prices themselves didn't move a lot, like with wood pellets, New Brunswick's mid year boost in the HST made sure bills would be higher anyway.

The typical New Brunswick residence consumes about 13 gigajoules of heat energy each January. So of the six major winter heat sources used by homeowners in New Brunswick what is the best value?

Starting with the cheapest fuel source, the following are current residential prices for 1 gigajoule of heat this month (including HST), with a comparison to last January.

1. Firewood:  $13.50 per gigajoule    Change from 2016 N/A

The cheapest option for winter heat in New Brunswick by far remains firewood. Even at a price of $300 per cord - which is well beyond what most New Brunswick residents pay – hardwood puts out more heat per dollar than any other widely used option. 

Prices vary a lot from vendor to vendor, are often not subject to HST and  are difficult track year to year. 

Nevertheless, there is no disputing it is the least expensive fuel available in the province.

2. Wood pellets:  $20.67 per gigajoule   +1.8% since January 2016

Pellets are sold in 40 pound bags and roughly three bags (depending on quality) contain 1 gigajoule of heat energy. 

Home Depot in New Brunswick has been charging the same price this January as it did last January at $5.99 per bag although the HST increase in July has added to the cost. 

Prices at other retailers vary but Mike O'Donnell with Marwood, a New Brunswick pellet manufacturer, says supplies are plentiful this year with no overall upward pressure on price at all.

"If anything the market has been a little soft.  We would have more inventory at this time of year than we normally have," O'Donnell told CBC News.

3.  Natural Gas:  $23.65 per gigajoule    +11.6% since January 2016

Enbridge Gas NB increased its residential distribution rate on Jan. 1.  That raised the price of heating with gas in New Brunswick over where it was this time last year, even though the price of the gas itself has been coming down. 

Despite that, natural gas remains one of the cheapest heating options available to residential customers in New Brunswick for those with access to it.

That's not widely understood in New Brunswick even by many natural gas customers.

4.  Furnace Oil  $27.29 per gigajoule*    +21.2% since January 2016

There are 26 litres of furnace oil in 1 gigajoule.  Last winter prices for oil were so low it often compared favourably to the price of natural gas. 

That hasn't been the case this winter. 

A series of price increases in November and December has suddenly made the fuel a lot more expensive than it was last January.

5. Electricity (baseboard) $33.83 per gigajoule    +3.4% since January 2016

   Electricity (heat pump) $17.80 per gigajoule    +3.4% since January 2016

Electricity can be one of the highest – or lowest – cost heat sources in New Brunswick depending on whether it is delivered by baseboard/space heaters or by a high efficiency heat pump. 

Heat pumps can lose some of their efficiency on very cold days so the savings they generate can be exaggerated somewhat – still as a supplementary heat source they are among the least cost options in New Brunswick.

It is the exact opposite for electric baseboard and space heating.  They require 278 kilowatt hours of  power to put out 1 gigjoule of heat which can get expensive quickly.

NB Power was limited to a 1.7 per cent rate increase this year by the Energy and Utilties Board but the jump came into effect on July 1 – the same day the province raised the HST.

The combination of the two assured electric heating costs of all types would be higher this winter than last winter. 

 6.  Propane:  $39.78 per gigajoule*    +15.8% since January 2016

Due to its relatively low energy content, there are 39 liters of propane in one gigajoule.  Propane prices were remarkably low in 2015 and early 2016 across North America but the tide has been turning on that for several weeks.

Since September prices have been climbing steadily in New Brunswick and making it a less attractive option for heating. 

It is certainly possible to buy propane for less than New Brunswick's maximum price, but the discount will have to be extreme at this point to match some of its competitors.

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