2008-10-30 / Front Page

High Heating Costs, Economic Woes Make For Uneasy Winter

Fuel prices higher this winter, help is available

An employee of CM Fuels Inc. of Spring Run, Pa., "fills 'er up" with fuel oil in preparation for the upcoming heating season. The prediction is that this winter will be slightly colder than last year, and that all fuel prices will be higher by 10 to 25 percent. An employee of CM Fuels Inc. of Spring Run, Pa., "fills 'er up" with fuel oil in preparation for the upcoming heating season. The prediction is that this winter will be slightly colder than last year, and that all fuel prices will be higher by 10 to 25 percent. If the U.S. Department of Energy's predictions turn out to be correct, average household expenditures for all space-heating fuels are projected to be at least 15 percent higher over last year's expenditures.

According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), household costs this winter will average $1,137 (from October 1-March 31) as compared to the estimated $986 spent last winter. The EIA also predicts that the largest increases will primarily be in households using heating oil and natural gas. Homes heating with propane can expect an 11.3 percent increase in cost this year, while those heating with electricity can expect a 10.4 percent increase. But homes heating with fuel oil can expect the highest increase projected at about 23 percent higher than last winter.

Locally, temperatures have dropped in the past two weeks and light snow is predicted in the mountains west of here. As homeowners turn on their "heat" to take the edge off freezing morning temperatures, many are concerned that, along with other economic woes, keeping warm this winter may prove to be costly - at a time when extra money is often not available.

With the county's unemployment rate higher than that of the state or nation (Fulton currently has the 65th highest unemployment rate out of 67 counties), households are struggling to balance their budgets.

And if that news isn't bad enough, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is also projecting this winter to be 2.4 percent colder than last winter but 1.7 percent warmer than the 30-year average. EIA also projects oil markets to "remain tight over the next six months" because of sluggish production growth and recovery from hurricanes Gustav and Ike in the Gulf of Mexico. Although the prediction is that crude oil prices could go back to $120 per barrel by April 2009, this week oil prices were down to just over $69/barrel, reflected in lower gasoline prices for now. Current home heating oil prices

Locally, home heating oil prices fluctuated on Monday from a low of $2.61/gallon from CM Fuels Inc. of Spring Run to $3.49/gallon at Shipley. Prices from E.C. Barnes, St. Thomas ($2.759/gallon); Twin Oil, Neelyton ($2.82/gallon); and Bedford Valley Petroleum ($2.759/gallon) all fell in the middle of the high and low prices.

If the prices seem high, it's likely because the home-heating season is just beginning. However, fuel oil prices have been higher in the recent past. At E.C. Barnes, heating oil was $3.67/gallon as recently as August of this year. As recently as one week ago, it was $2.899/gallon. A spokesperson for Barnes said their highest prices were in July of this year when a gallon rose to $4.15.

The spokesperson also said that while heating oil prices have fluctuated, kerosene prices have remained relatively the same - $3.99/gallon. At Blue Flame in Hancock, Md., propane gas was averaging $3.41/gallon for 250 gallons. If you need help

For those without the resources to stay warm this winter, Gov. Ed Rendell has announced $280 million in funding for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The LIHEAP program is designed to help Pennsylvanians having trouble paying their heating bills and facing heating emergencies such as shut-offs.

In addition to the funding commitment, Pennsylvania has expanded eligibility for LIHEAP to Pennsylvanians earning up to $44,443 for a family of four - an increase from 150 percent of the federal poverty level to approximately 210 percent of the poverty level. Rendell has said that with the new eligibility guidelines "80,000 more state citizens will be eligible for a LIHEAP grant - 30,000 more Pennsylvanians will be able to receive crisis grants when they are in danger of losing their heat, meaning a total of 450,000 families are now eligible for LIHEAP grants."

A household of one person may be eligible for the LIHEAP grant if their income does not exceed $23,110.

In addition to expanding eligibility, the amount of the LIHEAP grants will increase from a minimum of $100 to $300. The maximum grant will rise from $300 to $800.

If a person is eligible for LIHEAP, a payment will be sent directly to the utility or fuel dealer and the payment will be credited to the person's bill.

To apply for the grants, applicants will need the names and dates of birth of people in the household, the Social Security numbers for all household members, proof of income for household members and a copy of a recent heating bill.

LIHEAP will begin on November 3, 2008, and interested parties may either call or visit the Fulton County Assistance Office located on Fulton Drive in McConnellsburg, The telephone number is 1-800-222-8563. Applications will also be available online effective November 3, 2008, at www.compass.state.pa.us.You may be eligible for other energy assistance

programs for low-income households in addition to the LIHEAP

program. Visit the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission for information on energy programs available for low-income households. You may also visit the $1 Energy Fund at www.dollarenergy.org or contact your utility company for information on programs that may help you pay your utility bill.

Sister Margie Monahan of the Fulton County Catholic Mission and Salvation Army reports that she has been inundated with requests for help with heating costs due to the weather turning colder prior to the start of LIHEAP. Her program has a limited amount of funds available to pay for utility costs and for rental assistance for families facing eviction. She may be contacted at the mission on South Third Street in McConnellsburg. Conservation efforts

In the meantime, Gov. Rendell has also launched a "Turn Down, Seal OFF, Save Up" campaign to help stretch heating budgets for the winter. The outreach campaign encourages residents to turn down their thermostats and seal off drafts in order to save as much as $740 in annual heating costs.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett has also offered some home heating oil tips that could save money. He urges citizens to:

• Contact at least three suppliers to determine the best price;

• Consider pre-purchase programs that offer protection against price increases by requiring a certain amount of fuel guaranteed at a certain price;

• Maintain your heating system by having it checked at least once a year and have filters changed regularly;

• Adjust thermostats to 65 degrees during the day and 55 degrees during sleep hours or when the house is unoccupied;

• Open drapes and blinds on the south side of your home during sunny days and close them at night and on cloudy days;

• Do not block registers and hot water radiators;

• Install storm doors and windows; and

• Have adequate insulation throughout your house and around your water heater.

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