• Bitter Charlotte winter has heating bills skyrocketing

    By: Stephanie Coueignoux


    CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Winter isn’t over yet, but Duke Energy said it has already broken all-time records for winter energy use.

    That has caused the number of people who can’t afford to pay their heating bills to skyrocket.

    Marilyn Baxter said she’s one of those people.

    “It was stressful because you have certain amount of time to pay Duke Power or they turn your power off,” she said.

    She turned to the very organization she was volunteering at -- Crisis Assistance Ministry. It’s a Charlotte organization that helps find funding for people struggling to pay their bills.

    Baxter said it was a last resort but after losing her job, and getting a heating bill close to $500, she couldn’t afford not to.

    Tovi Martin, who works with Crisis Assistance Ministry, said because people often wait until their power is about to be shut off, they’ve seen a big increase in how many people are looking for help.

    In fact, this week they’ve had people lining up outside the building before they even open.

    Martin said, “Pretty much every day this week we've had at least 100 people in line for assistance.”

    Last month, people in the Carolinas set a new record for the amount of electricity used in a day. The previous record was August 2007.

    February was one of the coldest months, causing people to crank up the heat. Duke Energy said those higher bills also reflect a 4.5 percent rate hike put into place last September.

    Charities are also seeing higher bills.

    For Project Halo -- a non-profit dog shelter -- a big part of their budget goes to heat. Every time the temperature drops below seven degrees, they take their dogs inside.

    Charlotte Pepper, who volunteers at Project Halo, said, “We have seen a skyrocket. We've had to have space heaters going day in and day out for days at a time.”

    Pepper said they receive fewer donations every time people feel the financial pinch. In this case, it’s been the weather.

    “That’s a bit of a constant worry for us when something like that happens,” she said.

    Options for those struggling

    Typical services for eligible customers include: sealing air leaks, installing insulation, replacing existing lighting with energy efficient bulbs and performing tune-ups and repairs to heating and cooling systems.

    For more information, to check if you are eligible to receive services, or to find the nearest service provider, call the N.C. Office of Economic Opportunity at (919) 715-5850.

    For all state and county assistance progrmas, click here.

    More resources:

    Crisis Assistance Ministries

    North Carolina Department of Social Services: Low Income Energy Assistance Program

    Albemarle Electric Membership Corporation Operation RoundUp

    Blueridge Electric Membership Corporation Operation Round Up

    Duke Energy Share the Warmth

    Mecklenburg County Crisis Assistance Ministry

    Piedmont Natural Gas Share the Warmth

    Progress Energy Carolinas Energy Neighbor Fund

    North Carolina’s Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP)

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