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Energy and the winter to come

September 13, 2005

The rising price of gasoline is bad enough, but now The Associated Press reports that in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, home heating costs could go up by 30 percent this year.

The state helped 83,000 citizens with $31 million in fuel assistance last year, but state officials are concerned that as the price of natural gas and heating oil increases, more who meet the income guidelines will apply.

We urge all who can to do what they can to conserve energy and to contribute to help those in need, should state and federal funds fall short of what is needed.

The Washington County Community Action Council administers two programs to help with such needs - the Maryland Energy Assistance program and the Electric Universal Service Program .

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In the first of those two, there were adequate funds available last year, but in December, CAC Executive Director Dave Jordan estimated that only one third of the 10,000 eligible households here applied for that help.

Funds can be used to pay for electricity, natural gas, heating oil, propane or wood.

The other program is funded by a fee paid by electricity customers in their regular bills. In 2003, it generated about $34 million.

It's unclear at this point whether state and federal funds will be sufficient to cover the needs of all who are eligible. Congress may increase the $31 million it sent to Maryland last year or the General Assembly could up its share of energy-assistance money. In the meantime, it's only prudent to conserve.

The U.S. Office of Energy Assistance and Renewable Energy offers the following advice for saving fuel:

  • If you have a forced-air system, make sure ducts aren't leaking.

  • Use a programmable thermostat to reduce the temperature in your home while you're asleep or at work and save 10 to 15 percent on energy bills.


Other tips are available at www.eere.energy.gov/consumerinfo/energy_savers/.

By using energy wisely and helping those who need a hand, citizens can get through the coming winter together.

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