Higher prices loom

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 8, 1999

From staff reports

Spent your sales tax rebate yet? Maybe it would be wise to hold off a bit.

Wednesday, September 08, 1999

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Spent your sales tax rebate yet? Maybe it would be wise to hold off a bit. After several years of modest costs, heating bills are expected to jump this winter.

Considering that many people had trouble paying the bills even during low oil and gas prices, that could signal trouble for the Albert Lea area this winter.

Have doubts? Consider the cold facts.

Retail residential natural gas prices averaged $6.09 per thousand cubic feet last winter and are expected to rise more than $1 to $7.10 per thousand cubic feet.

Crude oil prices were at a depressed $10.86 a barrel as last winter began. Since then, the prices have increased to an average of $19.13 a barrel in August and are projected to reach $21 a barrel by the first quarter of next year.

Setting aside some rebate money now for heating bills could prove a wise investment come January.

There are alternatives for those in need.

For one, Alliant Utilities customers can donate extra on their bills to a fund called Project Care. The money is reserved for Alliant customers who receive a disconnect notice. There is a maximum amount of $100 available per household within a 12-month period.

In fact, using some rebate money to help others through Project Care this winter is another approach.

Emergency funds are also available through Semcac, once a resident receives a disconnect notice for utility service. And, county assistance may provide a last-ditch save.

But such subsidies alone are not enough for residents in need. Most turn to tight budgeting and frugal use of utilities, in addition to the subsidies.

Generally residents of Albert Lea have found ways to conserve energy and budget accordingly, local experts say. But higher prices will make that all the more difficult this winter.

Still, knowing that worse is to come, planning ahead will make a difference.

And the rebates seem like a good place to start.