Robb Hicken: To stay warm, access help with utilities if needed

Special to the Idaho StatesmanJanuary 16, 2014 

When Gary Franklin opened his propane bill, he couldn’t believe the prices he was paying.

The bill was almost double what he had calculated, causing his alarm. The price for propane was around $2.70 according to a price indicator on the Internet. The price quoted on his bill was $4.45.

“I have a contract that states I have to rent a tank from them and cannot use another company for service,” he says.

The Treasure Valley resident is one of thousands of homeowners questioning their heating bills after the most recent cold snap. High heating costs are a problem each winter when money is tight. According to the Energy Information Administration, more than 90 percent of the 116 million homes in the United States are expected to have higher heating costs than they did the previous winter. The storm that ripped across the nation missed the Boise area but chilled the region the past six weeks with freezing temperatures.

Typically in the Snake River region, electricity, natural gas, heating oil and propane are used to heat residences. Homes heated primarily with propane are expected to spend an average of 9 percent more than last winter, and homes heated with electricity are expected to spend 2 percent more, according to the administration.

Since 1982, Idaho Power and The Salvation Army have worked together — through the Project Share Program — paying energy bills and for furnace repairs through voluntary contributions to individuals and families needing help. Last season, Idaho Power customers donated nearly $200,000 to Project Share; IDACORP shareowners donated an additional $40,000. With 1,567 Project Share grants, more than 4,400 individuals in crisis received assistance with their energy bills.

In addition, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program provides eligible households with a one-time benefit. This includes, but is not limited to, gas, electric, wood, propane and oil. This program, from Community Action Partnership, is available depending on funding availability and based on income and the household’s historical energy usage.

Project Share and Project Warmth are community programs that may also be of assistance. In addition, if you live in the Treasure Valley, the Keep Kids Warm fund is available to assist with heating costs for low-income families with children.

Above all, remember: Intermountain Gas and Idaho Power will never ask a customer to make a wire transfer or ask for credit card information to pay a bill.

Here are points to remember:

- Your utility company will work with you on large heating bills. Communication is the key: Call your provider.

- Pay attention to pricing information for coal, heating oil and propane. They will adjust with the market.

- You will not get a call from a utility provider demanding immediate payment. If you feel pressured for immediate payment or personal information, hang up the phone and call the customer service number on your utility bill. This guarantees you are speaking to a real representative.

- Never allow anyone into your home to check electrical wiring, natural gas pipes or appliances unless you have scheduled an appointment or reported a problem. Also, ask utility employees for proper identification.

- Always review your bill from your service provider.

Robb Hicken: 947-2115

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