portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article commentary portland metro

energy & nuclear

The Threat of High Electric & Natural Gas Bills

Prices are predicted to soar and there seem to be few alternatives for the low income consumer.
Last year when the water bill became astronomical, I was able to go to NW Ministerial Alliance, at the referral of City of Portland, to get a discount on the water bill because of our low household income.

When persistance of reports that heating oil and natural gas bills will soar this winter due to the hurricane devastation and other factors, we -- like many other low income and poverty level families -- have been frightened at the prospect of having to pay higher heating prices when we are already stretched to the limit by high rent, food, and other necessary monthly expenses.

Since our local energy suppliers are essentially monopolies catering to shareholders, we don't have the luxury of shopping around.

A call to NW Natural resulted in another referral to NW Ministerial Alliance. However, after traveling to their office, I learned that they were only making appointments for adjustments for two things: water and natural gas. And in the case of natural gas, there is no plan offered to reduce rates for the low income. There are only two options: 1) to set up a plan with NW Natural to balance out payments throughout the year so that the gas company gets all of its blood money in the end but the consumer pays a higher price in the summer and the same price in the winter (so that a lower price is not paid in summer and an astronomical price in the winter months); at present they don't even know how to estimate this accurately because no one knows how high rates will go or 2) to let the bill go unpaid for one or two months and then apply to NW Ministerial Alliance for a hardship voucher. It is the equivalent of waiting until you have a full-blown illness before seeking help rather than managing health so that catastrophic illness does not happen nor impact your family.

We attended the city's winterization workshop and have done everything possible to winterize our rental house, with the OK of the landlord. However, other than shutting off certain rooms of the house, it will not be possible to NOT heat the house (as we have done in late Spring and Summer) when temperatures begin to dip below zero because it will risk damaging the house, risking freezing pipes, etc.

I wondered if anyone else had suggestions about other programs that we may not know about or if people had useful ideas about how to keep the anticipated electric and natural gas bills at bay this winter.

It's no lie that a lot of people are going to be going without to pay these bills, or - if they can't - will be out on the street or moving into the basements of family members (if such family members are in better shape than they are).

This evening I watched with some disgust as national news aired a story about the anticipated rise in natural gas costs. What was their biggest concern? That if low income Americans had to spend most of their income on heating and gasoline they wouldn't be able to shop enough during the Christmas holidays to do their bit to support our economy. Pah! We haven't had any discretionary income to speak of for so long that the thought of big Christmas shopping excursions is not even remote possibility.

Guess we will have to rely upon the shrinking number of those who are living off of the fat of the land to buoy business during the coldest months of the year . . .
couple of thoughts 28.Sep.2005 22:13

mental

just the brain storm of 2 sec of thought.

1. If it gets really expensive go south for the winter.

2. plant trees burn wood.

3. insulate, insulate.

4. look for warm clothes now.

wear sweaters and 28.Sep.2005 22:16

playdead

make sure you have a programmable thermostat which will save you some money in the long run.

I wish I still had an oil furnance so I could heat my home with biodiesel. I am so done with giving these war mongering thiever barons any of my money.

Anyway, here's hoping for another mild winter.

img 28.Sep.2005 22:21

img

img
gasflame
gasflame

BTU tax for the rich 29.Sep.2005 14:12

Ned

Since the rich use so much gas to heat their huge McMansions it raises the price for everyone. So we should increase the tax on the amount you use. The more you use the higher the tax you pay. The tax could be used to subsidize or partially subsidize the ones who cant afford it which is going to be a lot of people. This will also hopefully decrease their gluttonous squanderous consumption which will lower the demand and price of gas. Something like this would be nice for gasoline too since they drive 50 miles a day in SUV guzzlers.

Space Heater 29.Sep.2005 14:53

jason

Try a small electric space heater or two--you can get them for about 25 bucks new and 10 or so at Goodwill. They are more efficient than heating your entire house, and they can be moved around to only heat the rooms you are currently using. I have two, and they have significantly cut my heating bill.

Also, freezing pipes are rarely a danger in Portland. It takes temperatures well below freezing for extended time to cause damage. The ambient heat from your house (gained during daytime when temperatures are usually at least 45 degrees around here) will keep your pipes from freezing. It's only really an issue when we have the big storms that settle in for days--like two winters ago, in which case it probably makes sense to keep your thermostat at at least 50 to avoid problems.

Also, to anyone who hasn't tried plastic window covering (the clear stuff) it works. I used it last year, and my monthly gas bill dropped 50 bucks between november and december while the weather got colder. It takes about 10 minutes per window to install, and can be found at any hardware store.

Hot Drinks 29.Sep.2005 15:27

Warm belly

And dont forget to stoke your belly with lots of hot tea for an internal furnace. Also wear a hat/cap, long johns and wool socks.

It won't be that bad here 30.Sep.2005 15:09

TH

NW natural actually did us a favor by securing longterm contracts for natural gas, it will only go up 15%. The bigger problem might be the rest of the country. Their gas bills will rise to about 70%. This will hurt our bottom line and might make it a tough winter in terms of our economy as a whole.
Next winter will be the real problem, when the contracts are up.

electricity 30.Sep.2005 18:12

is not heating oil or natural gas

I think our electricity comes from coal and hydro power. Petroleum prices shouldn't affect the cost of electricity. Is there some other reason electricity rates are expected to go up, or is this a typo?

Natural gas=electricity 30.Sep.2005 19:30

TH

Natural gas is used to make electricity during peak hours (9 to 5), this is why our natural gas rates are so high. The companies that make electricity from gas have long term contracts, they get the cheap gas that we got 4-5 years ago. We get whatever is left over these days.

Most of our electricity is from coal, "our" hydro-power is sold to California because they like to use "green power" and they are willing to pay more for it.

As of 12:00 tonight, electricity rates are going up 3% for Pacific Power customers, not sure what the other companies will charge.