Heating Bills Soar in Long, Cold Winter

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When it comes to heating your home this winter, there is good news and there is bad news.

The good: natural gas prices are at their lowest point in a decade. In fact, Consumers Energy says it costs 9 percent less to heat your home this winter.

The bad: a long, cold winter means people are using more gas than usual. And that's reflected in heating bills.

"Just like when you get in a car to take a long road trip, you're going to use more gas than if you're just taking a small trip across town," said Terry DeDoes, a spokesman for Consumers Energy. "The same thing is happening with your furnace. It's working a lot harder because it's so cold. It's working day and night to keep your house warm. It's using a lot more natural gas."

Trina Wurmnest, who lives in Lansing Township, can normally get through the winter with her thermostat on 68, using blankets and sweaters to stay warm. But this winter is a whole different animal.

"We've had to keep our heat up just to keep our pipes from freezing," said Wurmnest."

And that extra heat is making it tough for her to pay her bills from Consumers Energy and the Board of Water and Light.

"It really cuts into our budget. I still have to put food in the house, still have to go to work," she said. "It's hard. You've got to figure out where you can cut and what you can pay this week and what you can pay next week."

Consumers Energy says it is there to help.

"Anytime anyone opens their bill and says, 'oh no. I'm going to have trouble paying this,' that's the moment, we want them to call us," said DeDoes. "We have the people, programs, processes in place to help customers."

DeDoes says regardless of income, Consumers will work with customers individually to figure out a payment plan. There's even a new Severe Weather Assistance Team, abbreviated SWAT, which is specially designed to come up with ideas to help people pay their bills when the weather gets cold.

But DeDoes says there are steps people can take now to save money on their next bill. Installing more energy-efficient windows, furnaces and water heaters can help. So can sealing the gaps around exterior doors. And a programmable thermostat, that lowers the temperature inside when you leave and go to bed can make a big difference too, he said.

In fact, DeDoes said, for every degree you drop your thermostat, you can save three percent on your heating bill.

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