Iowa heating bills will rise, even with normal winter
Dec 17, 2012 (Menafn - The Gazette - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --Warm weather through mid-December is getting the winter heating season off to a happy start, but can it match last year's?
"We set the bar so low last year that any normal type of winter will look higher," said Alliant Energy spokesman Ryan Stensland.
With prices locked in on about 70 percent of Alliant's expected natural gas needs, Stensland doesn't expect customers to see a rate increase. But heating bills would be higher with anything like a normal winter.
"We don't anticipate pricing to change much over the winter for customers," he said. "What would change is their usage."
Continued warm weather may have contributed to a decrease in the number of Iowans signing up for help with their heating bills, said Jerry McKim, director Iowa Bureau of Energy Assistance.
"Our participation rate is quite a bit lower than last year," McKim said. "I attribute that to a mild winter so far."
Through Thursday, 50,729 Iowa households had signed up for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program), down about 6 percent from 53,776 at this point last year.
The Hawkeye Area Community Action Program has taken 4,740 enrollments, down from 4,997 at this point last year, said Lorna Golson, program manager for the Hiawatha-based non-profit. The agency administers the assistance program in Benton, Iowa, Johnson, Jones, Linn and Washington counties.
Households with incomes up to 150 percent of the federal poverty level -- 34,575 for a family of four -- may apply for heating assistance through April 30. That's down from a record 101,401 Iowa homes in 2010 to 88,493 last year.
The assistance program's federal funding is set every year, and McKim expects Iowa's share this year to be the same as last winter's 54.8 million. But 5 million has been held pending an outcome to the slow-moving fiscal negotiations in Washington.
"We're waiting to see if we'll fall into the sequester," said McKim. "Best-case scenario, we're going to get the same amount as last year. Worst scenario is we'd get about 4.5 million less."
That would mean an average benefit of 460 per household if enrollment hits last year's level.
"Is 460 an adequate benefit? Even on a mild winter, no it's not," said McKim. "For a significant segment of our population, energy continues to remain unaffordable, plain and simple."
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