As Electric Bills Rise, Community Action Moves Help Center

Photo: CAI Heating Assistance intake worker Donna O'Connor answers the phones at the new heating assistance office, 3 Washington Square, first floor, Haverhill.

Electric bills for most area residents could rise by as much as 37 percent this winter if a proposed rate increase by provider National Grid is approved. Haverhill's Community Action recently moved its fuel assistance programs to a prominent downtown location to offer relief.

National Grid recently filed with the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) to adjust electric and gas rates for the winter. According to a press release, the company’s electric customers will see a significant increase in their bills due to higher power supply prices (the cost of the electricity National Grid buys for customers and passes on without a mark up). Starting in November, a typical residential basic electric service customer using 500 kilowatt hours (kWh) per month would see an increase of 37 percent, or about $33, on monthly bills this winter (from November to April) versus the same period last winter.

“With the chance of another cold winter on the way, National Grid is very concerned about what higher energy costs mean for our customers.” “Though we can’t control power supply prices, we can help our customers in other ways, which is why we urge Massachusetts residents to take full advantage of energy efficiency and payment programs that can help lower their bills,” said Marcy Reed, president of National Grid in Massachusetts.

Meanwhile, gas rates would be one to three percent lower than last year, but according to the company, using more natural gas for home heating as the weather cools down means that gas bills would rise for most customers as they do every winter. Starting in November, a typical residential natural gas customer would see a decrease in monthly bills of between $2 and $5. The majority of this decrease is due to a credit driven by last winter’s colder-than-normal weather, when National Grid customers used more gas than forecast.

Help Available from Haverhill's Community Action

Community Action Inc. says it offers a variety of home heating assistance options. The agency's fuel assistance programs have moved to the first floor of 3 Washington Square. The new waiting/reception area offers a self-service station for existing clients to make copies, pick-up preprinted forms and provides a locked drop box to make the process of submitting their application easier, the agency said.

Re-certification application packages have been mailed to households that participated in the program last season and heated with gas, electric, oil or other delivered fuels.

New participants are asked to answer a few prequalification questions regarding their income and household size to see if they qualify for heating assistance. All new eligible households will schedule an application appointment. Once an appointment is booked and confirmed new applicants will be emailed the required documentation to bring with them based on their response to the pre-qualifying questions.

Programs include:

Heating Assistance – The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) has been available in Massachusetts to low-income households since 1977. Heating Assistance helps income eligible residents pay a portion of their heating bills between November 1 and April 30.

Heating System Assistance – The Heating Emergency Assistance Retrofit Task Weatherization Assistance Program (HEARTWAP) provides heating system repair and replacement services to low-income households. The program operates year round. During the winter months, the program serves as an emergency intervention service to provide assistance to low-income clients having problems with the operation of their primary heating system.

The Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) provides up to $7,500 in added insulation, replacement windows, and general plugging of air leaks to homes and apartments for those households eligible for LIHEAP. This program also operates year round.