Energy costs soar as Erie heads into winter. Here are ways to save, and to get payment help




  • In Business
  • 2022-10-06 02:01:11Z
  • By Erie Times News

Add staying warm to the long list of things that have gotten more expensive.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, energy prices for the 12-month period that ended in August were up 23.8%. While electric prices rose 15.8%, natural gas prices jumped 33%.

Here's some more information about prices and the prospects for a cozy winter heating season.

Energy prices are on the rise, according to the U.
Energy prices are on the rise, according to the U.  

Natural gas prices

The good news is that natural gas prices are below their all-time high. Prices in northwestern Pennsylvania peaked during the winter of 2008-09 when the average annual residential bill from National Fuel Gas Distribution Corp. topped out at $1,618 a year.

But after falling and remaining low for several years, largely because of expanded natural gas drilling, prices are on the rise again.

In fact, National Fuel Gas, the parent company of National Fuel Gas Distribution Corp., is predicting this will be the most expensive heating season in more than a decade.

National Fuel petitioned the state Public Utility Commission to pass along higher gas supply charges, effective Aug. 1. The increase raised the monthly bill of a typical residential customer by 26.3% from $87.13 to $110.11.

The reason for the rate adjustment

According to National Fuel, "The rate adjustment is primarily due to higher market prices for natural gas, which have increased the cost of natural gas supplies that National Fuel purchases for customers."

Blame the laws of supply and demand. According to numerous sources, demand for natural gas is up while production has slowed.

According to the Energy Information Administration, "Natural gas prices rose in August because of continued strong demand for natural gas in the electric power sector, which has kept natural gas inventories below their five-year average."

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The electric option

Electricity heats 23.5% of all homes in Pennsylvania, according to updated numbers from the American Community Survey. That compares to 51.3% that heat with natural gas.

There is a different look to the numbers in Erie County, where 78.3% heat with natural gas and 10% use electricity.

But even for those who heat with electricity, there's no escaping the effect of higher natural gas prices.

According to Penelec, which raised its cost to compare by 18.7%, effective Sept. 1, "The price to compare continues to climb due largely to increases in the cost of natural gas and other commodities used as fuel to generate power."

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No reprieve with heating oil

A relatively small number of Erie County residents uses home heating oil. Not surprisingly, they won't be spared this season's higher heating bills.

According to a report from the Energy Information Administration, heating oil prices have risen by an average of $1.95 a gallon since October 2021.

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So with prices for everything going up, what's a chilly homeowner to do?

Prepare your home against the cold

Here are some tips from National Fuel that can help cut energy consumption:

  • Reducing air leaks can cut as much as 10% of your monthly energy bill. Use caulk or weatherstripping to seal leaks around floors, walls, ceilings, ducts, fireplaces, plumbing, doors, windows, fans, vents and electric outlets.

  • Set thermostats between 65 and 70 degrees during the winter and at 58 when away from the house for more than a few hours.

  • Change or clean furnace filters once a month.

  • Close vents or doors in unused rooms.

Shop around for better rates

Both electric and gas utilities, including Penelec and National Fuel, frequently remind customers that they simply pass along the cost of energy and invite residents to shop for alternate providers.

According to Penelec, "It's important to stress that our customers are not captive to the price to compare; Pennsylvania is a choice state where customers can choose their electric supplier at any time. We encourage our customers to research the offers from retail."

Pennsylvania consumers can choose a natural gas provider and compare prices at PAgasswitch.com. To shop for an electrical provider, visit PApowerswitch.com.

There is more than one reason to shop for an energy supplier. Pennsylvania consumers might be looking, for instance, to purchase electricity from clean or renewable sources.

More:Hundreds of liens for millions of dollars remain as mediation fails in Erie County gas pipeline case

But if the price is the lone objective, don't expect to save much money.

A review of 84 offers to provide alternate sources of electricity in Erie showed that just two were lower than the default price provided by Penelec. And both of those offers were for variable prices that could change over time. Some companies are charging more than twice the amount of Penelec's default offer.

Todd Meyers, a spokesman for Penelec, reminds residents to shop carefully.

"I am not telling people not to shop, just educate themselves and understand what they are getting into," he said. "It may sound strange, but we don't care where people purchase the electricity; they remain our customer because we deliver it to their homes or businesses."

Where to turn for help with costs

National Fuel customers can call 800-365-3234 to discuss payment options, including budget plans and the Low-Income Residental Assistance Program, which offers reduced-date monthly bills, debt forgiveness; and deferred payment agreements.

Other options include Customer Assistance Referral Evaluation Services, or C.A.R.E.S, which offers payment arrangements and referrals for customers facing hardships.

Also, the Neighbor for Neighbor Heat Fund helps customers who are having difficulty paying bills. Eligible customers can include those who are 55 or older, veterans, or individuals who are disabled, unemployed or have a certified medical condition.

Penelec customers who are having trouble with their bills can visit firstenergycorp.com/billassist.

Look to LIHEAP

Help can also be available through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, also known as LIHEAP. The program helps low-income families pay heating and cooling bills.

For information, call the Erie County Assistance Office at 814-461-2002.

Jim Martin can be reached at jmartin@timesnews.com.

This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: Erie PA home heating costs are up. Here are ways to save

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