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Area customers should expect higher heating bills, officials say

Officials with the city of Hamilton and Duke Energy say that customers in the area should expect to see higher heating bills this winter.

Lee Freedman, a Duke Energy spokesperson, said the unpredictability of natural gas prices could drive up heating costs even though the temperatures are staying slightly above what they were at this time last year, in the next few months it is expected to get colder.

“So far this month, average temperatures have been about 1 degree warmer than average, and 1 degree warmer than December 2016,” he said. “As you can imagine, this month’s average temperature could change dramatically depending on the weather over the next 10 days.”

MORE: Hamilton natural gas rates climbing 5 percent starting Dec. 1

Freedman added, “our meteorologists are forecasting temperatures to be about two degrees colder than normal in January 2018, and about one degree colder than normal in February 2018.”

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Winter heating bills can vary based on many factors like outside temperatures, thermostat settings, the cost of natural gas supply and whether a customer has made energy efficient improvements to the home.

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Duke Energy offers free programs and tools to help customers better understand and manage their monthly energy expenses. Budget billing gives customers better control over their energy spending by establishing predictable monthly payments.

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The company sends High Bill Alerts to customers when adverse weather may lead to a significant increase in energy costs.

Nathan Perry, utility business manager for the city of Hamilton, said customers serviced by the city will see a slight increase in their bills over the winter months.

“We consider the winter months to be November through March,” Perry said. “So I looked at the average costs for those months in 2016 to 2017 and then looked at usage rates projected for 2017 to 2018 for the same months. The average customer bill for 2016 through 2017 was $146 and we are projecting that for 2017 to 2018 the bill will be $157 on average so there is an expected $11 increase or 7.5 percent. This includes electric and gas in those bills.”

Perry said the projections are based on actual usage rates and can be higher or lower depending on what consumers are using during the billing time period.

Both Perry and Freedman explained that there are multiple tips consumers can deploy to help mitigate heating costs during the winters, ranging from controlling the thermostat to properly insulating their residence.

“You can save as much as 10 percent a year on heating and cooling by simply turning your thermostat back 7 to 10 degrees from its normal setting for 8 hours a day,” Freedman said. “In the winter, set the thermostat to 68 while you’re awake and set it lower while you’re asleep or away from home.”

For those who are struggling to pay their bills, there is some help available. Approximately 610 Butler County households have been kept warm so far this season through Supports to Encourage Low-Income Families (SELF’s) Winter Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP).

Launched Nov. 1, the HEAP program is continuing to take appointments for the program that provides emergency utility assistance to low-income families through March 31, 2018, according to Rebecca Palen of the agency.

She explained that in order to qualify for the Winter Crisis Program, a household must be threatened with disconnection, have been disconnected or have less than a 25 percent supply of bulk fuel.

The household must also have a gross income at or below 175 percent of the federal poverty level. For a family of four, the annual income must be at or below $43,050. From November 2016 through March 2017, more than 104,799 Ohioans were helped by the program statewide.

Appointments for HEAP in Butler County can be made by calling 513-868-9300, option 1 or 888-432-7022.

In Warren County, HEAP assistance is available by calling toll free at 1-866-747-1042 for an appointment or to hear times for walk-in assistance.

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