Archive for Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Warm winter not cooling demand for energy assistance

February 15, 2006


A warmer-than-expected winter is slowly bringing down the cost of heating with natural gas, but don't expect that to make Mike Coffman feel any better.

Coffman, who has been disabled for more than a year because of an automobile accident and other physical problems, thinks his gas service will be shut off by the end of next month because he can't pay the bills.

"I keep my furnace at 55 (degrees) and I'm not using as much gas, but it's costing me twice as much," the Lecompton resident said. "I don't know what people are going to do."

Jeanette Collier, director of East Central Kansas Economic Opportunity Corp., is working to help Coffman and others like him.

"We were meeting last week probably about every hour each day with people who were needing utility assistance," she said.

Customers are seeking help with their bills although gas costs have dropped in part thanks to the mild winter weather, said George Minter, vice president of corporate communications at Aquila, the company that supplies natural gas to the Lawrence area.

Mike Coffman, of Lecompton, has reached the limit of assistance for his utility bills from ECKAN. Coffman is disabled from injuries resulting from a car accident and cannot work. He is pictured with his dog Butch.

Mike Coffman, of Lecompton, has reached the limit of assistance for his utility bills from ECKAN. Coffman is disabled from injuries resulting from a car accident and cannot work. He is pictured with his dog Butch.

Gas prices on the wholesale market have decreased about 9 percent from mid-December's record high of about $15 per 1,000 cubic feet, he said.

"The bills weren't as high as they could have been, and we're glad of that," Minter said.

The average residential bill for gas usage received in January for December was $224, Minter said. That average dropped to $194 a month later, he said.

Coffman was hit with a $303 gas bill in January followed by a February bill that was more than $200. He received $300 in assistance from ECKAN to pay the first bill - reaching the agency's limit for assistance - and cannot pay his latest bill.

The so-called "cold weather rule," which restricts when utility firms can shut off service for nonpayment during the winter, expires at the end of March. Without more assistance, Coffman expects his gas to be shut off.

Coffman has a wood-burning stove in his house, but because of problems with his shoulders he has been unable to haul wood. Coffman, who's known for serving his "road kill stew" at the April 15 tax festivities at the downtown Lawrence post office, said he injured one of his shoulders trying to move a deer carcass onto the back of his truck.

"It's just been a nightmare and it's getting worse," he said.

ECKAN gets money for gas bill assistance from the Warm Hearts program, a Lawrence-based direct-mail campaign. Like Coffman, many others who have received assistance from ECKAN are at their $300 limit, Collier said.

ECKAN is referring people to other programs such as the Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP) under the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.

KCP&L offers help

Thanks to an $88,000 grant, the East Central Kansas Economic Opportunity Corp. will offer a residential energy conservation program. The grant from KCP&L; will allow ECKAN to help homeowners with projects such as ceiling and wall insulation, furnace equipment, gas or electric hot water tanks, air infiltration and smoke detector installation. Families must be KCP&L; customers and meet income guidelines. For information, call Don Hobbs at (785) 242-6413 or toll-free at (888) 833-0832.

LIEAP expects to receive from 5 percent to 10 percent more applications for assistance this year than last year, said Dennis Priest, assistant director for programs in the SRS economic employment support section. The program this year has paid $2.6 million in assistance, or an average of $200 per household, he said. Since mid-January about 29,000 applications have been received.

"We've really just begun to scratch the surface of the applications received," he said.

Last year LIEAP received about 50,000 applications, Priest said. The program is funded by a federal grant, and this year's grant of about $15 million is similar to what was received last year, he said. Priest expects all the grant money to be used.


DaREEKKU 12 years, 1 month ago

i keep my thermostat at 64 degrees, have brand new construction and our gas bill was over $300.00. I'll just sell my soul to the highest bidder at this point.

badger 12 years, 1 month ago

You know, if you call the gas company and ask about assistance, they can refer you to any number of agencies, from ECKAN and LIEAP to a number of church organizations to the Salvation Army.

The Cold Weather Rule will expire March 31; however, if you call before then and get on a payment agreement (you pay 1/12 of your balance each month in addition to your regular bill), you won't be shut off as long as you keep making those payments. There are no income guidelines for payment agreements. Anyone can have one. All the Cold Weather Rule really does is say you can have as many new payment agreements as you want without paying off the balance. Starting April 1, you have to pay off your old pay agreement before you can get any more extensions.

DaREEKKU, in a new house with the thermostat at 64, unless you have a lot of gas appliances (especially a gas fireplace) your bill really should be lower. You can call the gas company and ask them to come do an energy assessment. They may be able to suggest some things to help you get the bill down, and they may find something (like a flue regularly left open, or a draft that eats up more heat than you realize) that you don't know is sucking the heat out of your house. If not, try the average bill plan, where you pay the same every month. It kind of feels like it rips you off in the summer, but it's really great in the winter.

I may, myself, have had a few ridiculously high bills in my past, and had to use the resources the gas company provides to keep the heater and water heater on...

Confrontation 12 years, 1 month ago

My gas bill was $48 this month, $70 last month. How do I do it? I freeze my rear off and leave the thermostat at 58 degrees. We use blankets and a small space heater in the living room. Luckily, none of us have any health problems (yet).

nomorebobsplease 12 years, 1 month ago

Level pay works great. I also replaced my old windows a couple years ago with ones that have LowE glass and it has made a huge difference. Replaced the patio door this year. It's a cost, but at the rate I save on my energy bill, I'll recoup the original investment in right about 5 years (sooner than that if the cost of natural gas keeps climbing)

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