Cost of home heating on rise

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

The cost of heating your home will likely rise this year. But unless you’re using propane, eastern New Mexico residents may avoid the huge increases predicted in some parts of the country.

According to PNM officials, the cost of natural gas is likely to be close to the same price as last year which would mean minimal increases to those heating their homes with that fuel, despite volatile oil prices lately that have sent home heating oil and gasoline prices soaring.

“I was told that sometimes the price of natural gas does track with oil prices, but it is not doing that now,” PNM spokesperson Susan Sponar said. “It still looks like the price of natural gas this winter could be about the same as last winter. But it will depend on weather across the country, which is what drives demand.”

Natural gas customers have two charges in their bill, said Sponar. One is the cost of delivery, from which PNM and other gas utilities profit from, and the other is the cost of gas, which makes up 70 percent of the bill.

The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission OK’d an increase of between 6.6 and 7.7 percent to PNM on delivery charges. Sponar says that increase will average about $1.75 per month on residential bills.

“That increase is for the cost of getting natural gas to your house,” Sponar said. “The cost of gas itself is a pass-through.”

The price of natural gas flucuates on each month’s bill and PNM announces those prices each month. That price announcement is due out today.

According to a story on the U.S. Energy Department’s Web site, nationwide, the cost of heating a home will rise nearly $90, or 10 percent, this winter over last winter when the four major types of fuel are averaged. Heating oil prices for the average home are expected to rise by 22 percent while propane could rise as much as 16 percent.

According to Betina McCracken, a spokesperson for the New Mexico Human Services Department, which administers the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), the state is bracing for the possibility that propane prices could increase as much as 28.3 percent over last year.

She said LIHEAP in New Mexico offers 17 percent of its support to residents who use propane to heat their homes. She said use of propane was especially prevalent in eastern New Mexico.

“That’s why we’re making an effort to get people familiar with the program,” McCracken said.

According to a press release from HSD, an effort has been made to simplify the eligibility process and at the same time assistance has been increased for the coming season by approximately $10 per average household.

In addition to support for electric and natural gas residents LIHEAP can also provide additional benefits for households which use bulk fuels, such as propane, firewood or wood pellets.

Qualifying households earn at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level, according to the release. Residents can apply at the Income Support Division office in their community.

Another program available to low income residents to help combat high heating bills is the Weatherization Program administered by Eastern Plains Council of Governments, headquartered in Clovis.

The program provides money for things such as caulking, weatherstripping, insulation, door and window replacement and in some cases furnace replacement. The program is also based on 150 percent of the federal poverty level.

Efforts to contact local propane dealers were unsuccessful Wednesday.

At a glance:

Heating cost assistance

Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)

Apply at the Income Support Division

• 1028 Community Way, Portales, 356-4473

• 3316 N. Main, Clovis, 762-4751

Eligibilty documentation needed

• Proof of household income (past 30 days)

• Identification

• Social Security numbers for all household members

• Proof of New Mexico residency

• If not U.S. citizen, proof of qualified immigrant

• Heating or cooling expense

Weatherization Program
Eastern Plains Council of Governments
Contact: Gloria Christensen
Address: 418 N. Main, Clovis
Phone: 762-7714