Paying bills is never fun, but Gordon Anderson's home heating bill for January was particularly painful.
The Elkhart retiree wrote NIPSCO a check for $141 for the month, up 45 percent from the $97 he paid in January 2013. Such an increase doesn't go unnoticed for a man whose income has stayed the same over that time.
"When you're retired and you don't have a work check coming in anymore, just Social Security, you just don't have that kind of flexibility," said Anderson, 85. "Anything that increases my costs just reduces what I have to spend on other things."
Anderson is not alone. Because of this winter's extreme cold, the average natural gas bill for January was expected to be about $36 higher than January 2013, and $19 more than what NIPSCO originally forecast during the utility's winter bill projections, the gas company said in a statement released Tuesday, Feb. 4.
Record-low temperatures have increased the price of all heating energy around the country, including natural gas and propane. These higher market prices could affect bills later this winter, and forecasts for February are calling for colder than normal temperatures, which may also increase customer usage.
Anderson said he tries to reduce his heat usage by closing heating vents and doors in bedrooms that he doesn't use as much.
NIPSCO encourages that kind of conservation and efficiency, said spokeswoman Kathleen Szot.
One program NIPSCO is trying to raise awareness of this winter is its Insulation and Duct Ceiling Rebate Program, which gives rebates to contractors that install new insulation in homes, resulting in a 40-percent discount for customers. NIPSCO in 2009 started giving rebates for the purchase of high-efficiency furnaces, and last year extended the program to cover insulation, which is more affordable for many people, Szot said.
She noted that some customers' January bills were actually estimations because the extreme weather made it too unsafe for NIPSCO meter readers to access meters. Those who received estimated bills will see their actual usage reconciled the following month.
NIPSCO urged those experiencing financial problems to call its Customer Care Center at 800-464-7726 to determine what options might be available for help. Solutions include:
Payment Assistance Programs: Based on income levels, customers may qualify to receive state and federal utility assistance dollars, as well as support funds from separate NIPSCO programs, by visiting their local community action agency.
- BudgetPlan: A free service to all NIPSCO customers to help manage monthly bills by spreading out costs over an entire year.
- Payment Arrangements: Allows customers to make an initial payment within four days of the agreement, then spread the remaining unpaid balance over three months, plus current bills as they are due.
For more information, visit NIPSCO.com/PaymentAssistance.
NIPSCO offers the following tips on how to lower heating bills:
- Make sure your home is well-insulated.
- Keep the thermostat at 65 degrees, or two to four degrees lower than what you're used to, and wear heavier clothing.
- Change filters often throughout the season as dirty filters block air flow.
- Checking heating ducts for cracks, holes or separations at joints, and repair with duct tape.
- Use storm windows and doors or sheets of plastic to help prevent heat loss.
For more tips, visit www.nipsco.com/en/save-energy/residential/household-energy-tips.aspx.