Home Heating Costs to Rise Slightly

10:13 AM, Oct 14, 2012   |    comments
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BUFFALO, N.Y. -- With the freeze warning in effect Friday night, many people in Western New York may be concerned about their home heating costs.

According to National Fuel, those heating costs will likely rise this winter. The increase follows a balmy winter last year that the utility says brought the lowest average heating costs in a decade.

In 2000, the average customer in the state paid about $1,067 for heat during the winter. Over time, this number dropped and last year the average cost was $614. This winter, National Fuel expects bills to rise slightly to $656 over the course of the season.

"About $42, which when you break that down monthly, it's $8.40 (more)," said Karen Merkel, a spokesperson for National Fuel.

The utility says that affordable natural gas from the Marcellus Shale is keeping costs low. It's also counting on a warmer winter like last year.

Still, even with the positive outlook, there is some bad news.

"Despite a very stable pricing environment, right now some of our customers will have difficulty paying their winter heating gas bill," said Merkel.

Brenda Miller-Herndon, a West Side resident says that even with the relatively low prices that National Fuel projects, she still feels that there's no relief.

"What would you do when your gas is turned off and your grand babies there?" she asked rhetorically.

Miller-Herndon says she's had to sacrifice basics like food and water to pay for her National Fuel heating bill.

"It feels terrible because you're basically homeless if you don't have any lights or gas on in your house, your house is considered [abandoned]," she said.

Miller-Herdon stresses the need for more weatherization funding from utilities like National Fuel. And so do organizations like People United for Sustainable Housing or PUSH, a community organization on Buffalo's West Side.

"Every year there's [going to] be a line around the corner that's going to wait for HEAP [Home Energy Assistance Program] and that line is based off years of backed bills that cannot be paid," said Jen Mecozzi, the directory of community development at PUSH.

National Fuel offers some heating assistance programs and a conservation incentive program. The company says that the incentive program is funded by customers that pay for rebates and weatherization. And that more funds have been added to weatherization with approval by the Public Service Commission.

National Fuel's home energy assistance program, which is federally funded, opens on November 19th and the maximum grant for that program is $450 says the utility.

The utility also recommends that customers go to payment assistance programs through state organizations and compare prices that way.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority also offers information on how to save.

Meantime, if you rely on fire wood to heat your home, experts say competition has kept prices stable this year for a face cord of wood, which costs on average about $140 on delivery.

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