Forecast: Cold, Snowy Winter Could Hit Michiganders in Their Wallets
Thursday, November 10, 2022
Forecasters are predicting extreme cold and wet weather for Michigan and the upper Midwest this winter, and experts warn that high energy bills could come with it.
The National Weather Service is calling for extreme temperatures and higher chances of heavy snow, with major storms possible in January and February. Michiganders are being advised to bundle up and take steps now to make their homes and businesses more energy efficient.
David Kolata, executive director of the nonprofit Citizens Utility Board, recommends - if you can afford it - switching from natural gas to an electric heat pump. He said recent advancements have made them more budget-friendly and reliable.
"And that technological improvement has both lowered the price of heat pumps," said Kolata, "but it's also helped them to work in extremely cold temperatures."
Environmental groups say changing from gas to electric heating is good for the climate, but the switch could also save consumers a lot of money.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration warns that gas prices in the Great Lakes states could rise by up to 49% this winter over last year.
Kolata said high heating bills could put some consumers in a financial bind, but adds that energy assistance programs are widely available.
He said in Michigan, regulated utilities are required to offer a Winter Protection Plan to seniors and low-income households to shield them from service cutoffs in freezing weather and make it easier to pay their bills.
"Most utilities that we're aware of do have what's known as budget billing programs," said Kolata. "Those don't save you money over the course of a year, but they smooth out your payments so you pay less in the winter and more in the summer."
Whitney Hayes - research analyst with the nonprofit advocacy group Elevate - said while many people might not be able to afford major changes in their home heating system, there are cost-effective steps they can take to keep warm this winter.
"Even small things like making sure that there's air sealing around windows and doors, electrical sockets, even those things can add up when you kind of seal it in," said Hayes. "Almost 10% of energy savings by doing those small little things."
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