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W.Va. summit to look at ways to cut heating costs

November 17, 2005|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - State Sen. John Unger already worries that those living on fixed incomes, especially seniors, have to choose between spending their money on food or medication. Now he's worried a third necessity - heat - will be vying for seniors' dollars.

With the cost of natural gas and heating oil increasing, and the cost of electricity expected to dramatically increase next year, a meeting open to the public this weekend has a goal of trying to help those battling high heating costs.

The event, called The Warming Hands and Hearts Summit, is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at Trinity United Methodist Church, 220 W. Martin St., Martinsburg.

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During a morning session, from 10 to 11:30 a.m., those who believe they might have trouble paying their heating bills can fill out applications for financial assistance, said Unger, D-Berkeley.

Since Unger worries people might turn down their thermostats to reduce their bills, medical students from West Virginia University will be discussing the possible adverse health effects, including hypothermia, of living in a home that is too cold.

West Virginia has more older residents living on fixed incomes per capita than any other state, Unger said.

During afternoon strategy sessions, United Way officials, Department of Health and Human Resources employees, the Council of Churches, AARP representatives and others will discuss ways to help those who need it.

Officials from throughout the state will be attending. A goal is to launch similar measures statewide, Unger said.

The summit comes at an opportune time.

Although weather recently has been warm, temperatures are expected to dip. The high temperature today in Martinsburg is expected to be 40 degrees, while the temperature tonight will fall to 25 degrees, with similar temperatures expected over the next several days, according to the National Weather Service.

"Snow is in the forecast in other parts of the state," Unger said.

Along with governmental assistance, those with low incomes also might be able to obtain financial help from the United Way, which has created a donation-driven fund to help people with their heating bills.

Other agencies also are trying to help. Another goal of the summit is to have governmental and private agencies working together, Unger said.

Once winter ends, next spring, summer and fall, volunteers will go to targeted houses to teach people about winterizing their homes and how to conserve energy.

Next winter, electricity costs are expected to increase as much as 40 percent, in part because the price of coal likely will go up, he said.

Other factors, including a growing demand for energy but the same supply in place, are driving up prices, Unger said.

"We have to act now to prepare for this wave, because it's already hitting us," he said.




If you go...



Think you might have trouble paying your heating bill this winter?

Relevant information, including applications for financial assistance with heating bills, will be available from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday during The Warming Hands and Hearts Summit at Trinity United Methodist Church, 220 W. Martin St., Martinsburg

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