While your air conditioner is probably working hard to keep your house cool, energy companies are looking ahead to keeping you warm this winter. Mark Reinders of Mid American Energy says while they don’t know for sure how much natural gas will cost this winter, there’s a good chance the price will be higher than last season. Last year was a fairly mild winter, he says, all things considered — but still the average Mid-American customer paid nine percent more for natural gas than they had a year ago. “It’s too early to make that prediction again, but the key factor is the weather,” he says. “If it really gets to be a crummy, long, cold winter, that’s what drives that market up for natural gas.” Reinders says supply and demand are at the root of the higher prices. He says there aren’t enough natural-gas rigs operating now to produce enough product. It’s gotten better over the last couple years, he says, but supply still lags behind demand compared to about ten years ago. The company’s trying to tackle that by buying the heating fuel now, before winter arrives. They’ll buy about 70-percent of the proejcted winter needs now, in the summer months. Reinders says they’ll use a variety of techniques to ensure that supply. The company puts about 70-percent of what it’ll need for the winter into underground storage facilities, or writes up contracts to buy it. Then as the weather gets cold they bring it out and supply it to the customers. MidAmerican Energy serves 1.3 million customers in a 10,000 square-mile area from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to the Quad-Cities.