Oil prices climbed to record highs earlier this month, then eased last week. It takes a while for the price of crude oil, set on global commodity markets, to influence the price of gasoline at a station in Annandale. Regardless of how higher crude prices affect consumers in the months ahead, consumers are already paying sharply more for energy than they were a year ago.

According to a Labor Department index, the price of all types of gasoline here rose 25.4 percent for the year ended in July. That's less than the 26.5 percent hike in all urban areas. It's also less than the 33 percent hike in local gasoline prices for the year ended in June, but it is still a sharp enough rise to pinch local pocketbooks.

The biggest rise for local gasoline prices in the last year was for regular unleaded, which is up 26.6 percent; premium unleaded gasoline is up 24.4 percent.

But gasoline isn't the only form of energy that is more expensive this year. Natural gas is drilled and processed separately from crude oil, but suppliers are hard-pressed to meet rising demand.

The natural gas piped into local consumers' homes was 14.9 percent more expensive in July than a year earlier, compared with a 7.1 percent increase nationally. That's not all that big a deal in the summer, when consumers use relatively little of the stuff. But if the high prices hold or rise further by winter, when many consumers need to use natural gas to heat their homes, it could be more troublesome for the local economy.

At the rate gas prices are rising, electric heat may look awfully good: Electricity prices locally are up only 2 percent in the past year.

-- Neil Irwin