Turning up the heat

Energy assistance requests pouring in

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Wednesday's continuous snowfall doesn't mean applications for heating assistance will start building up.

Officials say the number of requests this winter has been fairly average.

"We're usually slammed Nov. 1 through the third week of December," said Laura Willems, self-efficiency manager for the Moffat County Department of Social Services. "Applications still come in heavily after that, but that's our busy time."

Social Services is the administering agency for the Low Income Energy Assistance Program, which assists residents in paying their natural gas bill from November through April.

Last year, 511 LEAP applications were approved for the 2003-04 program period. There have been 326 applications submitted in 2004-05.

Willems thinks this year's requests will be on par with last year's, and she doesn't think this week's storm will have any effect on applications.

"Snow doesn't mean cold," she said. "In fact, some times it means it's warmer because it provides some insulation."

To be eligible for LEAP, household income must not exceed 185 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. The maximum monthly income for a household of one is $1,435, two is $1,926, and three is $2,416.

Applications are available at the Moffat County Department of Social Services or online at www.cdhs.state.co.us.com.

The outlook for energy prices suggests an increasing problem for low-income energy consumers. Fifty-three percent of low-income homes heat with natural gas. Although residential natural gas prices averaged about $6.30 per thousand cubic feet (Mcf) during the 1990s, the price rose to $9.63/Mcf in 2001, and the Department of Energy forecasts that prices will remain at or above $10/Mcf through 2005. Fuel oil prices also increased significantly in recent years and are not expected to decline in the foreseeable future, the report states.

The price of electricity, the second most common energy source for space heating, is expected to increase by more than 6 percent.

The Community Budget Center also offers assistance on a one-time, emergency-only basis.

That help includes utility bill payments.

What has been a relatively mild winter hasn't seemed to be a burden on Yampa Valley Electric Association customers.

Jim Chappell, manager of consumer accounts with YVEA said the number of times the company has had to disconnect someone's service because of non payment is consistent with last year.

But, he said, he thought a bigger need for assistance existed.

The National Weather Service is predicting snow through the weekend and rain on Monday as well as high winds gusting 25 to 30 mph today and Friday.

Temperatures are expected to remain in the teens and 20s, with a high of 39 predicted for Sunday.

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