CHICAGO (WLS) -- High heating bills are expected this season and the I-Team is finding that natural gas could go up by 45% in the Midwest, which is the highest increase in the country.
The consumer watchdog group Illinois PIRG said that more than 20% of People's Gas customers are already behind in their bills.
The group partially blames a fee that funds a program updating old gas pipes.
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ABC7's Jason Knowles and the I-Team have been covering the progress and criticism of that project since 2015.
"This surcharge that the Illinois legislature allowed People's Gas to use as a way of recovering the cost of a big infrastructure project," Abe Scarr, State Director with PIRG. "Between July and September, the average customer paid $13.54 per month, just on that surcharge."
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Peoples Gas said they offer "customers flexible payment plans, deferred payment arrangements, and budget billing." The utility also said their modernization program is needed for "safety and reliability" and that it's "on-schedule and on-budget".
The state and the Citizens Utility Board are holding two virtual events Wednesday night to help residents apply for utility assistance.
ILLINOIS UTILITY ASSISTANCE:
The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) Wednesday reminded residents of utility relief available to low-income families throughout the state. Through Governor Pritzker's Help Illinois Families program, DCEO has launched over $295 million in utility assistance programming available for low-income households across the state and is accepting applications now through May 31, 2022, while funds remain. More information on how to register for the free, community events can be found below.
Both events will also be streamed live on Facebook.
Nov 17 at 6 p.m. Register in English here or on Facebook live at Facebook.com/CUBIllinois
Nov 18 at 6 p.m. - Register in Spanish here or on Facebook live at Facebook.com/CUBIllinois
PEOPLES GAS ASSISTANCE:
In order to help customers in the greatest need, bill payment assistance is available through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and the Share the Warmth program. To see if they are eligible and apply, Peoples Gas customers can call the Community Economic Development Association (CEDA) at 800-571-2332, or go to cedarorg.net.
Separate from this financial assistance, Peoples Gas said they will work with any customer to arrange a payment plan that best fits their needs, and to set up Budget Billing that keeps bills stable from month to month. Customers can call Peoples Gas or go to peoplesgasdelivery.com to discuss available options.
Managing energy use:
Customers can take steps to manage their energy use by turning down their thermostats, using programmable thermostats, sealing gaps around windows and doors, and scheduling an annual furnace tuneup. Peoples Gas also offers free energy efficiency consultations. For more low and no cost energy-saving tips, go to peoplesgasdelivery.com/savings/.