DETROIT (AP) — Colder winter weather and double-digit
increases in the price of natural gas, heating oil and propane are
expected to push the heating bills of residents across the state up
an average of $106 to $253 for the season, according to a new
report released yesterday by the Michigan Public Service
Commission.

Relatively mild weather helped lower last winter’s demand
for fuel, so state officials expect demand to increase assuming a
return to normal winter temperatures.

Couple that with higher energy prices stemming from rising oil
costs and the serious disruption of oil and gas production in the
Gulf of Mexico by Hurricane Ivan, and the amount the average
consumer pays to heat their home is expected to increase
significantly, according to the commission’s Michigan Energy
Appraisal for the 2004-2005 winter.

The semiannual report, published since 1978, reviews the
projected prices and availability of energy in Michigan during the
winter months.

Some customers who see the largest increases will be those whose
homes use heating oil, the cost of which has increased dramatically
as the price of crude oil has surged. On Monday, average
residential prices for heating oil stood at $1.89 per gallon
excluding taxes, up 63 cents per gallon from year-ago levels, the
MPSC said.

Though mostly limited to the more rural and northern parts of
the state, heating oil costs can be a good indictor of overall
heating costs because they reflect natural gas prices, said
Kathleen Walgren, executive director of The Heat and Warmth Fund,
or THAW.

The demand for natural gas is expected to increase by 1.1
percent over 2003 in Michigan and result in cost increases of 14 to
17 percent for the average natural gas customer.

When heating costs increase while income levels remain flat or
decline, the statewide need for home heating assistance from
nonprofit organizations such as THAW goes up, Walgren said.

Right now, Walgren’s organization is concentrating on
raising money to help restore service before winter hits to the
thousands of Detroit families who currently have no heat. The
group’s general assistance program opens in January, she
said.

“We want to help them avoid using kerosene heat or
candles, which are very dangerous, to stay warm,” she said.
“Quite often, you see somebody injured because of fumes or
even killed in a fire. That’s the kind of thing we really
want to prevent.”

THAW helped an estimated 12,000 families last year and
distributes $4.5 million dollars in heating help annually through
more than 100 agencies across the state.

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