Editorial: Attention to heating costs paramount

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 16, 2005

The word is out: The cost to heat our homes this winter will escalate beyond belief. Average prices for natural gas, a common fuel for northern Minnesota, are slated to be 50 percent higher in much of the Midwest, and perhaps even higher in severe cold areas such as ours.

While utility companies maintain that they will have plenty of natural gas despite the two hurricanes, they have been paying more for the fuel they have been putting in storage, and those fees are likely to climb through the winter.

The cost also depends upon the weather &045; the colder it gets, the more fuel we use, the more utilities we must buy at the higher prices. The result: we pay even more.

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As a result, the pressure is growing to push Congress to approve more funding for the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program, which is the mainstay federal program to help people who can’t pay their heating bills. That push includes the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association, which called upon Congress to consider more LIHEAP funding.

Congress had the chance to do that recently, but failed. In the House version of the massive energy bill, which won approval 212-210 with no Democrat votes in support, did nothing for LIHEAP.

A National Energy Assistance Survey report shows that in fiscal year 2005, the typical household spent an average of 14 percent of its annual income on home energy. This year, energy bills are expected to increase 70 percent for many. Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., notes that at the same time, earnings for the oil industry are expected to jump 73 percent next quarter.

Consumers will need to pay closer attention this winter to energy-saving measures. Minnesota is fortunate in having a law that prevents utilities from shutting off natural gas between Oct. 15 and April 15, but that doesn’t cover homes independently heated, such as through propane and other delivered fuels. Still, the bill is due April 15, and a winter’s fuel bill at the higher prices could devastate a family’s finances.

It’s important that when President Bush promises billions and billions of aid to hurricane survivors, that he and Congress also provide for winter survivors who will have just as tough a time staying warm in their homes this winter.

&045; The Bemidji Pioneer