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Rise in natural gas prices will have big impact on winter heating costs

Prepare to pay more this winter on your heating bill, especially if you're a natural gas customer.

MINNEAPOLIS — Natural gas prices in the United States have soared lately, reaching a 14-year high this summer.

And that has direct implications for your utility bills.

During the summer, higher natural gas prices make it more expensive to produce electricity, contributing in part to a 15.8% increase in consumer electric costs compared to last year. During the winter, of course, natural gas users will feel the impact on their heating bills. 

According to new estimates released this week by the National Energy Assistance Directors' Association (NEADA), heating costs for natural gas customers this winter may increase as much as 34.3% compared to last year – and 66.1% compared to two years ago. 

"The rise in home energy costs this winter will put millions of lower income families as risk of falling behind on their energy bills and having no choice but to make difficult decisions between paying for food, medicine and rent," NEADA wrote in its report. 

Earlier this month, the organization sent a letter to Congress pleading for $5 billion in extra support for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Last year, federal COVID relief dollars helped offset the enormous increase in applications for energy assistance – but that won't be available during the winter of 2022-23.

RELATED: Prices are going up fast, but relief may be coming for Social Security recipients

Tammy Stauffer, the director of energy assistance for Community Action Partnership of Hennepin County, said grant sizes will be smaller than last winter and the expanded eligibility for assistance will no longer apply. Last year, her organization fielded 7,000 more applications than the previous season, an increase of 38%. 

"The additional funds we had last season definitely helped us be able to help more people and to provide bigger grants to them," Stauffer said. "I am a little weary that the funding won't be able to meet the demand. More funding is definitely better and I advocate for it as much as I can. But we will do what we can with what we get and help as many people as we can."

Although the relief program does not begin until Oct. 1, the application process has already opened. You can visit the state's website to find your local provider and learn how to apply.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Xcel Energy acknowledged the potential impact of rising natural gas prices and said "we work to protect our customers as much as possible from price fluctuations."

"Our customers pay the same price for natural gas that we do, and we take steps to lessen the impact of price increases, such as through natural gas storage, as well as contracting wholesale purchases of natural gas in advance," Xcel Energy said in a statement. "We also encourage our customers to take advantage of ways to save energy and money, and to contact us if they need help paying their bills."

RELATED: Inflation rose 0.1% last month as more consumers turn to credit card debt to pay the bills

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