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Prepare now for low temps and high heat bills

Temperatures this week will dip into the 20s, according to local weather forecasts, and, if you haven’t already, most of us will be cranking up the heat in our homes.

That’s unfortunate because, like everything else, consumers should be expecting to pay more in home heating expenses this year.

As our business writer Ron Selak Jr. reported recently, higher prices combined with higher consumption in the colder winter being forecast is driving those anticipated higher costs, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Nationwide, home heating on average will increase by 17.8 percent over last winter to $1,208, according to the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association, which also reports between the 2020-21 and the 2022-23 winter heating seasons, the cost of home energy increase has jumped by 36 percent.

Sadly, one in six — about 20 million American households — already are behind on their heating utility bills, according to the association.

That’s a frightening scenario for many residents, including many of our neighbors here in the Valley.

In the Midwest, natural gas users can expect to pay about $995 for their seasonal bill — up 31 percent from last year, experts say.

Homes that use heating oil as their primary fuel can expect a seasonal bill of about $2,694 — up 45 percent over last year.

Households with electric heat are estimated to spend an average of $1,366 for the season — an 11 percent increase from last year. Midwest electric users will spend 8 percent more for a bill of about $1,440.

Propane users in the Midwest can expect to pay about $1,565 for the season, or about the same amount they paid last winter.

Mark Wolfe, executive director of the directors’ association, said the rise in home energy costs “will put millions of lower-income families at risk of falling behind on their energy bills and having no choice but to make difficult decisions between paying for food, medicine and rent.”

The good news is, help is available and you can save energy.

Earlier this month, the White House announced it was making $4.5 billion available to help with heating costs through the low income Home Energy Assistance Program, or HEAP.

A wide range of other programs are available to low-income Ohioans to help manage their heating bills, from home weatherization to cash grants.

PIPP Plus is a special payment program developed by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio that allows eligible Ohioans to maintain their natural gas and electric by paying a set percentage of their yearly household income toward their utility bills.

HEAP provides a one-time heating bill credit during the winter heating season.

HEAP and PIPP can be accessed through the utility providers’ websites or they are administered in Trumbull County through the Trumbull Community Action Program, or TCAP, and through Mahoning County Youngstown Community Action Program, or MYCAP, in Mahoning County.

Other programs are the Winter Crisis Program, which provides a one-time grant to help avoid a gas shutoff or to restore service, and the Home Weatherization Assistance Program, which helps with grants for home weatherization projects.

Also, Dominion offers its natural gas customers budget billing and payment arrangements, and direct help through its EnergyShare program for customers who have exhausted all other forms of help. The program is funded with company contributions and donations from customers and employees.

The gas supplier also has a weatherization program, and PUCO has a special reconnect orders for residential customers, regardless of income. Customers may restore their gas service or avoid it from being turned off once during the heating season by paying the lesser of the full past-due balance on their gas bill, the past-due payments if the person is on a special payment plan or $175.

At Ohio Edison is Project Reach, an emergency hardship fund designed to help residential customers restore or maintain electric service. Distribution of those funds is administered by Salvation Army offices.

Finally, here are some energy-saving tips for the winter months from Ohio Edison:

l Setting thermostats lower really does save money. Every reduced degree in your home saves about 3 percent of energy during the winter. Wear an extra sweatshirt or use a blanket when relaxing.

l Make sure your home is properly insulated; and seal leaks around windows and doors with caulk or weather stripping.

l Close fireplace dampers when not in use.

l Close drapes at night. During the day, open only those receiving direct sunlight.

l Turn off lights when not in use, and use a timer for outdoor lighting.

l Change furnace filters regularly.

l Keep all registers free of obstructions.

l Wrap exposed pipes and water heaters in unconditioned spaces.

editorial@vindy.com

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