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Heating prices could bring sticker shock this winter, including in central PA

FILE - Yolanda Barry shovels the walkway in front of her house in River Edge, N.J., Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020.
Seth Wenig
FILE - Yolanda Barry shovels the walkway in front of her house in River Edge, N.J., Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020.

It’s likely going to cost more to heat your house this winter, and Pennsylvania’s Public Utility Commission is urging consumers to get ahead of higher bills by conserving energy and contacting their utility if they get behind.

The rate for natural gas from Columbia Gas, which covers much of the WPSU listening area, is taking an especially dramatic jump this year. The cost went up Oct. 1, but with cold weather here, some consumers might just now be noticing increases.

“What's upset the pricing ‘applecart,’ not just in Pennsylvania but all across the country and globally for the last year, is an international demand for power,” said Nils Hagen-Frederiksen, the spokesman for Pennsylvania’s Public Utility Commission. “It's the surge in demand that came as global economies began coming out of the COVID downturn. And then, on top of that, there was the uncertainty in the international energy market generated by the war in the Ukraine.”

Distribution costs make up 40-60% of your bill and they’re not changing. The other 40-60% of your bill is based on what you use. And for Columbia Gas users, that’s going up by 128%. More than double. It's the biggest increase of any of Pennsylvania's natural gas utilities.

Hagen-Frederiksen said you can be proactive in saving energy by turning down the thermostat, only doing loads of laundry and dishes when they’re full, and getting your furnace a tune up.

“If you only react when you get that monthly bill, which really only tells you what you used four to six weeks ago, you don't really have an opportunity to change your habits and change your energy usage on a household level to try to moderate some of those impacts,” Hagen-Frederiksen said.

He said this might be a good time to shop for new energy suppliers at the PUC’s and

“If the national forecasts hold true, which is there's a national expectation that energy prices will start to ease again as we move into 2023, then there is the potential for maybe more savings on the consumer side," he said.

If you’re having trouble paying your bill, you can contact your utility’s customer assistance program. They can tell you about hardship funds, nonprofits in your community that might help and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP. Eligibility is based on household income and size. For a family of four, the eligibility income limit is $41,625.

The cost of electricity and other heating oils is also up this winter.

Emily Reddy is the news director at WPSU-FM, the NPR-affiliate public radio station for central and northern Pennsylvania.