I-Team: Home heating bills skyrocket during extreme winter

February 26, 2014 (CHICAGO)

Wanda Polsakiewicz says she keeps her thermostat at 65 degrees at her home on the city's Northwest Side and that her furnace was serviced in the fall, but that hasn't helped during this brutal ice cold winter. Her total bill for Nicor Advanced Energy, along with a charge for People's Gas to deliver the gas, was $257 in December, then $350 in January and, for February, $568.

"I was very much shock, very much shock. I call the company several times but they could not help me," said Polsakiewicz.

The problem: she's enrolled in a third party, variable rate plan which gives consumers a choice. It's cheaper if gas prices are low, but can cost big bucks when they're high. Polsakiewicz says she didn't realize she was on this kind of a plan, but Nicor says she called them, signed on in 2013, and received a notification and welcome packet.

"Six hundred dollars, that's more than my pension, $600 to pay for the gas but I do have a lot of expenses, electricity I have to pay," said Polsakiewicz.

Nicor Advanced Energy says its working with her and may issue a credit of $100 to help her out. There are also programs like the Community and Economic Development Association of Cook County. In the last year CEDA says it's helped 180,000 households.

"The big issue is going to be sticker shock. Right now, there is a moratorium on disconnections in most cases for electric and gas utilities that will end April 1," said Mark Burger, CEDA.

CEDA says no matter which plan you have, this season you can plan on paying about 30 percent more to heat your home. On Wednesday, Nicor said its customers will pay about 26 percent more this season than last. People's Gas says the "gas charge" on your bill will be 80 percent higher in March than February. That's about $57 more for an average bill.

To lower your costs you can:
-Reduce drafts by doors and windows with towels
-Open blinds and curtains during the day when it's sunny
-Turn down your thermostat when you are at work, and if you turn your temperature down by 1 degree all of the time, you can shed 3 percent off your bill.

"They need to get their houses as energy efficient as possible, they need to get new appliances, insulation, the major items that can cost a lot but the can save a lot of money and be a lot more comfortable in their homes," said Burger.

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