Mild winter offers break from high heating costs
Combined with a lack of snow and ice, the unseasonable conditions have been a blessing for many families who normally devote much of their budgets to natural gas, propane or heating oil. In Michigan, temperatures have been 15 percent above normal since October, and plentiful fuel supplies are driving down natural gas prices. Utility company Consumers Energy says its 1.7 million natural gas customers in Michigan are paying about 20 percent less than a year ago. Advocacy groups and government agencies agree the weather has been helpful — to a point. Demand for heating assistance remains high, they say, partly because so many Americans are unemployed or working at low-paying jobs. The grant I was provided will barely get me one fill of my propane tank,’ said Judd Schultz, housing director for Minnesota Valley Action Council, one of 28 nonprofit agencies through which the money is distributed. In Indianapolis, employment coach Janice Duffey of Southeast Community Services said she’s been flooded with calls for heating help and expects no letup anytime soon. The owner of an oil company in Scarborough, Maine, said heating oil usage among his customers dropped about 25 percent in November and 18 to 20 percent in December.