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Amid rising prices, local utilities recommend assistance programs to struggling households

'We are ready to assist our customers. Please do not be afraid to call your utility company, get online and check out what programs are available.'
Posted at 6:20 PM, Nov 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-10 20:09:37-05

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Due to a variety of national and global challenges since the start of the pandemic, natural gas prices were two times more on November 1 than they were on the same day in 2020.

This rise can put individuals with low income at risk.

MidAmerican Energy serves around 4,500 households in Nebraska and more than 600,000 in Iowa. It says customers may see increases in their utility bills anywhere from 50% to 100% compared to last year.

Metropolitan Utility District serves around 225,000 residents in the metro. They predict a 30% increase in residents’ heating bills.

You’re not out of the woods on your electric bills either. OPPD says some of its electricity is powered through natural gas generation. That will reflect on your bill, especially in all-electric homes.

There are several reasons we are seeing these increases across the industry. Most of them center around high usage and demands, along with inventory shortages.

“Some of that is due to the polar vortex (February 2021), there was a hurricane that had some effect, so I think the US is still playing a little catch up on storage,” MUD Vice President of Corporate Communications Stephanie Mueller said.

The weather this winter can make things even worse.

“Depending on how cold our winter gets, there may be some fluctuation in that 30%,” Mueller said.

The US Energy Information Association estimates that if this winter is 10% colder than projected, national inventories at the end of the winter will fall below one trillion cubic feet. That would be 44% below the five-year average.

In the same scenario, they predict natural gas consumption to increase by 15%, natural gas prices to go up by 30% and your heating bill to increase by 50%.

Natural gas providers say conserving the energy in your home can knock that bill down a little bit.

“Lowering your thermostat by just one degree helps you save about one percent in energy costs,” Mueller said.

“Weatherization around doors and windows, calking any cracks they see, installing a programmable thermostat,” Black Hills Energy Senior Community Affairs Manager Lynn Porter said.

There are also plenty of assistance programs that you can apply for to get help on your bills if you are unable to afford them.

MUD has a few different programs through local agencies and is about to start a new program called the Round-Up Campaign, where customers can set up their bill to round up to the nearest dollar. That extra change would go to those who can’t afford their bill.

“So, if their bill is $95.20, they would round up to $96. That would happen on a monthly basis and even just that small amount can have a really large impact for those in need in our community,” Mueller said.

Black Hills Energy serves surrounding Omaha areas along with Council Bluffs and most of western Iowa.

They have several programs as well, such as Black Hills Cares and a budget billing option.

Outside of Douglas County, they pair up with the Salvation Army to support those struggling to meet those bills with the Heat Share Program.

The Salvation Army can also help with utility assistance for those in Douglas County if you qualify and apply.

“There’s no judgment, there’s no, ‘Oh my gosh, how did you get in this situation?’ Nobody does anything like that,” Salvation Army Western Division Commander Major Greg Thompson said. “We are just looking to be of assistance, and I would tell people if you are feeling like you are getting in trouble, now is the time to reach out.”

The gas providers say there are a lot of assistance funds still available and they want you to reach out so that they can help you stay warm this winter.

“Natural gas is a pass-through cost, meaning that we don’t make any money on the natural gas and it may be the highest portion of their bill,” Porter said. “We are ready to assist our customers in any way that we can. Please do not be afraid to call your utility company, get online and check out what programs are available.”

To learn more about the utility assistance programs available to you, check out the links below.

Black Hills Energy
Metropolitan Utility District
MidAmerican Energy
Salvation Army