Good news for home-heating fuel customers, for the first time in years, as they face the heating season ahead. Mark Reinders with MidAmerican Energy says natural gas prices are down considerably from last year. He says it’s the first he can remember in five years at least that the price of natural gas has been lower going into the winter season than it was the year before.

The price of natural gas on the New York Mercantile Exchange last week closed at its lowest level since mid-September of 2004, and Reinders says gas prices have dropped by over 50 percent from last year. Cash prices for gas are hovering right now around five dollars (per thousand cubic feet), the lowest price it’s been in two years. The outlook for prices as far out as January and February of next year still show a downward trend. He says last winter’s heating-fuel increase was a little less than they’d feared.

Last year at this time they were telling customers to brace for a price increase of around fifty-dollars a month. As it turned out the increase was closer to only fifteen-dollars, though Reinders admits that was largely thanks to mild winter weather. Power companies wound up with a surplus as a result, and that’s pushed the price down this year.

The key is going to be how cold it gets this fall and winter, and how long it stays cold. He points out if it gets cold in the fall or early winter, that’ll tend to not only push up the price, but keep it up there for the whole winter. Supplies are plentiful right now, according to national market analysts. MidAmerican supplies natural gas to one-point-three-million customers in Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, Ohio and Illinois.