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Forecast calls for lower heating bills

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) – Some U.S. households can expect to save hundreds of dollars this winter with a drop in heating bills, thanks to a combination of lower energy prices and warmer weather across most of the country, the U.S. Energy Department predicted Tuesday.

The department’s annual outlook calls for lower heating bills, with the biggest savings for those who use propane or oil to heat their homes. The government predicts a 25 percent drop for homes using heating oil and an 18 percent drop for homes using propane, compared to last winter.

The outlook is based on a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast that calls for warmer weather across all regions except the West, which is expected to be slightly cooler.

People using natural gas and electricity for heat also can expect to see a savings this winter. Heating bills for homes using electricity should drop about 3 percent and natural gas about 10 percent, the Energy Department said.

“If winter temperatures come in as expected by U.S. government weather forecasters, U.S. consumers will pay less to stay warm this winter no matter what heating fuel they use,” said Adam Sieminski, administrator of the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The news is especially good in the Northeast, which is most reliant on heating oil.

Heating oil prices were at a 10-year low in the most recent survey by the state of Maine, where nearly 70 percent of homes rely on heating oil during the state’s harsh winters.

“It’s nice to have Maine consumers catch a break because it has been a rough few years with energy bills,” said Patrick Woodcock, director of the governor’s energy office.

If the forecast holds, it’ll mean hundreds of millions of dollars that U.S. residents can save or spend elsewhere. But judging by last year’s forecast, consumers probably shouldn’t spend the savings just yet.

Last year, the forecast called for warmer temperatures across the country. That held true for the most part but not in the East, which suffered through a cold and snowy winter. Boston recorded more than 100 inches of snow – nearly 65 inches in February alone – and set a new snowfall record.