Area residents were encouraged to give more than a cold shoulder to rising heating costs during a forum Friday at the Erie County Office Building in Sandusky.
The forum, titled “Affording Home Heating: What’s In Our Future?” featured an array of speakers including Janine Migden-Ostrander, lead legal counsel with the Ohio Consumers Counsel; Dave Rinebolt, director and attorney for Ohio Partners for Affordable Energy; and Bruce Bowie, administrator of the village of Milan.
Migden-Ostrander said Columbia Gas is looking to increase customer charges from $6.50 to $11.97 and then $19.27 in the years thereafter.
After listening to the audible gasps go around the room, she read one more fact: FirstEnergy Corp. also filed for a possible rate increase.
“I’m very, very worried how people are going to be able to afford to heat their homes,” said Judy Englehart, director of Erie County Department of Job and Family Services. “They can’t avoid it like they can avoid the prices at the gas pumps by not driving. They have to stay warm.”
Migden-Ostrander said customers are paying much more for energy than they should be.
“Our job is to find ways to help you,” she said. “This issue is a very deep concern for us. The picture for energy costs has been painted, and it’s not pretty.”
Serving Our Seniors director Sue Daugherty encouraged people to question all utility increases.
“Growing heating costs is a problem,” she said. “Unfortunately, nobody wants to claim the problem. The state says it’s a federal issue; the federal government says it’s a state problem. Everyone needs to step up and voice your concerns. Write to your commission and let them know this is a problem for you.”
“We’re all in the same boat,” he said. “The advantage is, there’s a much bigger voice now on behalf of customers than ever before.”
Ted Huston and the Rev. Herman Robinson, both of Sandusky, said they’re concerned about utility help going only to low-income families.
“It hurts people in low-income bracket, and now it’s starting to hurt the people in the middle-income bracket,” she said.
“People who make more than the guidelines are struggling just as much as people who are making below them,” Robinson said, shaking his head. “We need to be more aggressive than compliant.”
Migden-Ostander said the upheaval of natural gas prices has caused competition among all energy sources, causing them to rise.
“Unfortunately those high prices are here,” she said. “We can’t do anything else but find ways to offset them. The solution is energy efficiency. We need to look at how we can make our homes more efficient. On an average, customers who take part in home energy efficiency programs save about 30 percent. Those using electric save between 13 and 18 percent.”
Bowie spoke of Milan’s cooperation with AMP-Ohio, a non-profit energy organization.
“Over 2,000 nonprofit public power systems exist in the U.S.,” he said. “Eighty-six of those are municipally owned and operated in Ohio. Consumers strictly own this operation. They question it, and they have the power to change it. In 2007, rates were on average 10 percent under FirstEnergy.”
Several citizen asked if Sandusky could jump on board.
“It would be a process,” Migden-Ostander said. “In the meantime, we’re very committed to fighting as hard as we can to keeping those rates down. We want to see more humanity in these companies.”
Energy tips for your home:
• Perform a home energy audit.
• Open draperies during the day to let warm sunlight in and close them at night to reduce the chill.
• Keep your refrigerator or freezer away from direct sunlight or warm air.
• Unlock all heating registers, air supplies and return vents.
• plug all holes in walls including light switches, electrical outlets and windows to keep air from leaking out
• Avoid using the commode as a trash can. Each flush uses six gallons of water.
• Don’t let the water run.
• Only run washing machines with full loads of laundry.
• Wash as many loads as possible with warm or cold water instead of hot water.
• Set your thermostat as low as you can be comfortable with in the winter and as high as you are comfortable with in the summer.
• Consumers with older windows can buy kits that create temporary storm windows.