GREENSBURG – This year’s arctic frost has nipped at people’s noses — but it also is taking a bite out of their wallets.
The colder-than-normal temperatures, coupled with higher-than-average natural gas prices pushed up January heating bills by an average of $30, according to natural gas distributor Vectren.
Temperatures this winter have been 17 percent colder in the Midwest than last year, which has increased demand for — and prices of — propane and natural gas, according to the Energy Information Administration, the statistical arm of the U.S. Department of Energy.
Residential propane prices more than doubled between Dec. and and Jan. 27, reaching $4.20 per gallon, before falling to $3.83 on Feb. 3, the EIA said in its most recent report. The wholesale price of natural gas, meanwhile, jumped from $4.32 per million BTU on Jan. 2 to $5.66 on Jan. 27, before falling to $5.04 on Jan. 31.
EIA projected that prices for propane this winter will average $2.41 per gallon, or 39 percent higher than last year, while prices for natural gas will average $4.17 per million BTU this year, up about 12 percent from last year.
Vectren said that in January, the average customer paid about $120 for natural gas, up from $90 a year earlier — though bills vary depending on factors including the size of the home, insulation and thermostat setting.
February bills also are expected to exceed last bills from a year earlier. Vectren said that so far, February temps have been about 20 percent below normal. In October, the utility predicted that the average consumer’s bill for February would be about $115 if temperatures were normal. Vectren said consumers can expect to pay more than that, but did not yet have an exact projection.
Chase Kelly, Vectren’s director of corporate communications, said via email that she encouraged consumers who are struggling to pay their bills to contact the utility right away to figure out payment options, including paying the bill in smaller increments, without interest or fees.
For help through Human Services’ Energy Assistance Program, consumers can visit hsi-indiana.com/energy-assistance.html. To be eligible, consumers’ income may not exceed 150 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $17,235 for a household of one, and $35,325 for a household of four.
Consumers also can contact their township trustees: decaturcounty.in.gov/townships/townships.htm.
Washington Township Trustee James Stuart said his office helped about 16 households with heating bills in January, and about three through the first half of February — though eight appointments had been scheduled.
Benefits that consumers receive depend on their need, Stuart said, but they must meet income guidelines. A single individual must make no more than $397 per month in gross pay to qualify. That’s about 50 percent of the federal poverty level.
Stuart said that for 2014, his budget includes $34,000 for utility and rent assistance.
“As long as they qualify, they will get our assistance,” Stuart said.
In Sand Creek Township, the eligibility guidelines are even lower, about $300 for a single individual and about $615 for a family of five, said Trustee Sandi Gatewood.
She sometimes makes exceptions, however, especially if a family with children needs help.
Her utility/rent budget this year is about $33,000, and she expects all of it to be spent.
Millie Stein, trustee in Salt Creek Townships, also said she makes exceptions to the income guidelines.
“Most people, they just need help one time,” she said.
And, she said, people usually just need help with a portion of their bill. Stein cannot afford to give much, as her entire annual budget for heating assistance is only $2,400.
Consumers who are seeking help from township trustees need to make an appointment (Washington, 663-5501; Sand Creek, 591-3081; Salt Creek, 663-2262), to which they need to bring paperwork including proof that they live in the township, utility bills, rent receipts and proof of income for the last 30 days. Trustees usually can determine on the same day whether applicants qualify
Contact: Boris Ladwig 812-663-3111 x7401; email@example.com
Tips to lower your heating bils: • Set your programmable thermostat as low as is comfortable, and lower it when you go to bed or will be away from home. • Clean or replace filters on furnaces and air conditioners once a month or as recommended. • Clean warm-air registers, baseboard heaters, and radiators as needed; make sure they're not blocked by furniture, carpeting, or drapes. • Place heat-resistant radiator reflectors between exterior walls and the radiators. • When replacing exhaust fans, consider installing high-efficiency, low-noise models. • Keep the draperies and shades on your south-facing windows open during the day to allow the sunlight to enter your home and closed at night to reduce the chill you may feel from cold windows. • Select energy-efficient products when you buy new heating and cooling equipment. Your contractor should be able to give you energy fact sheets for different types, models, and designs to help you compare energy usage. • For furnaces, look for high Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) ratings. The national minimum is 78% AFUE, but there are ENERGY STAR models on the market that exceed 90% AFUE. Source: U.S. Department of Energy.