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Utahns have faced low temps and high heating costs so far this year

A programmable digital thermostat, that can adjust temperatures on a schedule whether occupants are home or not, is one way households can save on heating costs.
Jim Hill
A programmable digital thermostat, that can adjust temperatures on a schedule whether occupants are home or not, is one way households can save on heating costs.

If you've noticed an increase in your home heating bill, you are not alone.

According to the National Energy Assistance Directors Association, families can expect to pay 17.5% more this winter. It’s the highest level in a decade.

"The rise in home energy costs this winter will put millions of lower-income families at risk of falling behind on their energy bills and having no choice but to make difficult decisions between paying for food, medicine and rent," said NEADA Executive Director Mark Wolfe.,

Lehi resident Michelle Perry said her family of four has lived in the same home for six years. Recently, she noticed their monthly bill “was almost double what we are used to for this time of year."

Perry said she was told by Dominion Energy that prices had increased. And it's not just her family seeing the spike in rates.

"I like to talk to my friends in our general neighborhood and everybody's bills were increasingly higher," Perry said.

Jorgan Hofeling, communications and strategic advisor at Dominion Energy, said there's been an unusual increase in natural gas prices across the West due to the drought and a decrease in hydroelectric and natural gas electricity production.

"There also was a major pipeline that's been out of service. And so the supply and demand has really caused a unique phenomenon here in the West that's caused the prices to be higher than they have been in the past."

Dominion Energy also implemented a 4% general rate increase on Jan. 1, 2023.

"And we request that that rate be adjusted every three years and that was recently adjusted. Customers will see about a $2.50 a month increase for that general rate case," Hofeling said.

All of this is putting a strain on consumer budgets. But there is relief for those needing assistance.

The Home Energy Assistance Target Program for Utah helps low income families pay energy bills that are sometimes a high portion of their household income.

Program Manager Mike Murdock said they are seeing an increase in those needing assistance to cover energy and heating bills. Between October 2021 to September 2022, he noted that the HEAT program processed over 35,000 applications that amounted to roughly $17 million in benefits.

Murdock said they are projecting a 10% increase in applicants this year.

"And what I recommend doing is if you're struggling to pay your utility bills, don't hesitate to apply. If you first applied, then we can look at your eligibility and determine if you're eligible or not. And if you're not eligible, we can find other resources for you in the right direction to find other resources to help pay those utility bills."

The HEAT program tries to give priority to elderly groups, the disabled and families with children in the home under the age of six. The program works with agencies statewide to provide assistance to those in need.

To help cut down on her own utility costs, Perry said they are keeping their thermostat set around 65 degrees.

"If we're not going to be home all day because we're at work or running kids places, we don't even turn it on. So we have our thermostat at night actually set at 64 and it stays that way."

Curtis Booker is KUER’s growth, wealth and poverty reporter in Central Utah.
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