The U.S. cold snap is driving up natural gas and electricity prices in the Northeast, because of fuel constraints and record demand for heat across most of the country surpassing the 2014 polar vortex.

Natural gas prices in Boston jumped to nearly $35 per unit, compared to $2.40 in the shale-producing state of Pennsylvania.

The cost of supplying electricity to meet demand also is rising with the increasing fuel costs.

The rising cost comes as many in the Northeast have switched from heating oil to natural gas and much more of the electricity in the region is coming from natural gas-fired power plants.

The "locational marginal electricity price" in New England was approaching $200 per megawatt across most of the state on Thursday. The price reflects the cost of producing the next megawatt of electricity to meet demand. By comparison, Ohio prices floated around $45 per megawatt of demand of electricity.

The soaring prices had analysts and consumer groups saying this year's cold snap could far surpass that of the polar vortex of January 2014.

"As reported, natural gas prices recently reached levels not seen since the polar vortex," said David Holt, president of the Consumer Energy Alliance, representing nearly a half-million consumers, businesses and manufacturers.

Holt used the cold snap to underscore the need for more pipelines to link natural gas production in Pennsylvania with the demand centers in New England, which has a history of supply constraints because it's at the end of the nation's energy distribution route.

"New England families will continue to be crushed by the untenable costs of energy prices this winter, and every foreseeable winter, unless our policymakers make energy affordability a priority," Holt said. "It is imperative state legislators and the region’s public utility commissioners get serious about the burden facing New England energy consumers.”

Bradley Harvey, chief meteorologist with the consulting firm Radiant Solutions, said the arctic blast will continue to see temperatures drop to the single digits in Chicago, New York, and Boston into next week.

“The Arctic is open for the coldest period in several years for the eastern half of the United States,” he said. The period of cold is projected to surpass the polar vortex of the 2013-14 winter heating season.

Harvey said the period between Christmas Day and Jan. 3 is expected to yield the highest number of days of significant heating demand, outpacing the 2014 polar vortex that brought stifling cold to much of the eastern United States.

"However, the extreme chill does not look to have much staying power beyond the first few days of January as a pattern shift is expected to bring temperatures back to near and just below normal," according to the consulting firm.

The 2018 January weather forecast shows the cold lifting after next week, according to the analysts. January will not be as cold as the polar vortex in 2014, but it will be significantly colder than last January.



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