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Heating oil hike worries county

Energy experts predict rising energy costs will drive home heating bills higher this winter.

Monday, September 25, 2000

Energy experts predict rising energy costs will drive home heating bills higher this winter.

And that forecast concerns many Lawrence Countians, said Shirley Harmon, Home Energy Assistance Program, or HEAP, coordinator at the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization.

"We have quite a few clients already since the weather turned cold and everybody started talking about the heating oil prices," Mrs. Harmon said. "It will cause problems for those on fixed incomes."

As crude oil prices near 10-year highs, just how much fuel costs are going to rise remains to be seen. And, the effect of President Clinton’s decision to tap 30 million barrels of oil from emergency stockpiles is not known.

But the Department of Energy issued a report earlier this month, predicting heating oil prices nationally to average about $1.30 a gallon this winter, up 30 percent from last year. Natural gas prices were expected to hit about $8.60 per 1,000 cubic feet, a 25 percent rise.

The time to start thinking about solutions, whether it’s applying for HEAP dollars, budgeting extra bottle gas money or adjusting hot water heaters and thermostats, is now, Mrs. Harmon said.

The HEAP program helps low-income families and individuals pay part of their heating bills and fuel costs during winter months, she said.

Sign ups began this week. Eligible participants must have total household incomes at or below the 150 percent federal poverty level. This year, HEAP combined with the Ohio Energy Credit Program.

There seems to be more people signing up early this year, Mrs. Harmon said.

That’s good because the earlier they sign up the earlier they can receive the vouchers for heating fuel, Mrs. Harmon added.

Applications for Lawrence County HEAP can be picked up at any post office, public library, medical clinic, health department and other locations. Those who signed up last year for HEAP automatically receive an application.

The amount of assistance depends on the family’s income, number of people in the house and what they are heating with, Mrs. Harmon said.

For those not HEAP-eligible, there’s little other emergency assistance, she said.

"It’s going to be a tough time," Mrs. Harmon said. "Some people maybe will have to set aside enough money for extra heating costs."

Other people might want to think about winterizing their homes. Income-eligible residents can receive assistance with that from the CAO’s winterization program, she added.

Weather-stripping around windows and doors can cut fuel bills by 10 percent to 15 percent, energy experts estimate. And turning down a thermostat just one degree can save 3 percent, they say.

Residents on metered utilities, like gas and electric, can consider level-payment plans, or budget plans, that will guarantee a price through the season, Mrs. Harmon said.

"Many don’t want to pay large payments in the summer," but it can mean a big reduction during the winter if you do, she said.

Most local propane companies often offer payment plans to good customers, she added.

For more information about HEAP, call 532-3534.