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Higher heating costs expected

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

U.S. consumers are expected to pay record prices for heating oil, electricity and propane to warm their homes this winter, and low-income families will need government help to cover those bills, government energy officials said Tuesday.

The picture is better for those who heat their homes using natural gas -- and in California most homes fall into that category. Natural gas expenses will be the cheapest of the major heating fuels, averaging $881 for the season, up 6%, or $50, according to the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Assn.

For Southern California Gas Co. customers, bills are expected to be about the same size as last year for the five-month period beginning in November, spokeswoman Denise King said.

The average residential customer using 75 therms of natural gas a month will pay $80 to $90, compared with $85 a month a year earlier, she said. The estimate is based on early natural gas price forecasts and could climb if the weather is unusually cold, King said.

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Heating fuel expenses this winter will be highest for heating oil, with the average family paying $1,834 for the season, up 28%, or $401, from a year earlier, the energy group said.

The association expects propane costs to average $1,732, an increase of 28%, or $382. People who rely on electricity for heat will pay $883 this winter, up 7%, or $58.

Mark Wolfe, the group’s executive director, called on the Bush administration to immediately release money from the government’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program to help poor families pay their heating bills as well as cover past-due high cooling bills from the summer.

“These record prices will place a significant burden on low- and moderate-income families this winter with record-high prices,” Wolfe said.

The group points out that poor households pay a higher share of their income for heating costs than other families.

During 2005, energy expenses accounted for 20% of the income of households that received assistance through the federal program, compared with 3% for higher-income families.

The group’s report is based on preliminary heating fuel estimates from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The EIA, which is the Energy Department’s independent analytical arm, will issue its official winter forecast Oct. 9.


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