The Energy Information Administration provides some rather wonderful news today. We have something to look forward to this winter other than the holidays. Energy costs and carbon dioxide emissions will both be lower. That's enough to provide pretty much anyone with a little holiday cheer.

Here's the first highlight:

EIA projects average household expenditures for space-heating fuels to be $960 this winter (October 1 to March 31), a decrease of $84, or 8 percent, from last winter. This forecast principally reflects lower fuel prices, although expected slightly milder weather than last winter will also contribute to lower fuel use in many areas. The largest expenditure decreases are in households using natural gas and propane, projected at 12 and 14 percent, respectively. Projected electricity and heating oil expenditures decline by 2 percent (see EIA Short Term and Winter Fuels Outlook slideshow).

Obviously, lower energy prices come at a great time as the U.S. economy may enter the winter months with double-digit employment. The last thing Americans need right now are more expensive heating bills. And in fact, on average, they'll have to use even less heat than last year:

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) most recent projection of heating degree-days, the Lower-48 States are forecast to be 1 percent warmer this winter compared with last winter and 1 percent milder than the 30-year average (1971-2000).

I'll be interested to see what the total heating-related energy consumption this winter is compared to last winter. I would be willing to bet that it will reflect far more than a mere one degree decrease. In an economy like this, many families will likely opt to get out an extra blanket instead of cranking up the heat. Even with an 8% decrease in price, any money that can be saved by a family struggling to get by, will be.

And those concerned with CO2 emissions also have extra reason to celebrate:

Projected carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuels fall by 5.9 percent in 2009. Coal leads the drop in 2009 CO2 emissions, falling by 10.1 percent.

The report explains that the causes of this decrease include changes in industrial energy consumption, the weak economy and changes in electricity generation sources. But as this handy chart shows, the 2010 projections don't look as good:

co2 2009-10.gif

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