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Can government ease winter heating costs?

06/30/08 12:00PM By Jane Lindholm
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AP Photo/Joel Page
Home heating oil delivery, Portland, Maine. Heating oil prices are nearly double what they were last year at this time, and some oil dealers have delayed rolling out their payment plans for next winter.
State leaders say a key program that helps low-income Vermonters pay for winter heat is at least $19 million short this year due to high fuel prices. Agencies that provide low-income services say if the federal government can't provide the funds then the state needs to act. But legislative leaders say there are no easy answers to the question of how low-income Vermonters will pay their heating bills, and that the problem extends to middle-income households and the small businesses that are selling fuel, too. Senator Susan Bartlett, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Tim Searles, executive director of the Champlain Office of Economic Opportunity, look at whether federal and state government can ease the concern about heating costs. (Listen)

Geothermal map of Bellows Falls, Vt. Click for larger image.
Also in the program, could geothermal heat be an energy source for Bellows Falls? A source of warm groundwater was recently discovered underneath the bedrock there. Hydrologist Meddie Perry explains how the town could tap the energy source. (Listen)

And we visit Townsend, nestled in the West River Valley and chartered in 1753. It's part of our ongoing series of audio postcards from Vermont towns. (Listen)


Listener comments:

I just received my pre-buy contract. For 620 gallons it is $3391.50 at $4.59/gal. Last year it was only $1484.00, which is a change of $ 1907.50, over twice the cost! I'm lucky I can "afford" it, but many people will go cold this winter.

Margaret in Norwich:
When you talked about how restrictive the Vermont program is income wise, you failed to mention that not only is it restricted to only 125% of poverty, but there is also a VERY restrictive asset test. First you need to think about what 125% of poverty is - for a one person household this is only just over $1000 a month! The state currently allows only $5,000 in assets for an individual. This need to change, especially for elderly and disabled people living on social security. The only way you can keep a roof over your head with only $1,000 a month income is to live on savings. The state seems to want to make us homeless before they will let us be eligible for LIHEAP.
When I have asked the State to eliminate or increase the asset test, they say they don't have enough money to let more people into the program.

Elizabeth in Burlington:
We are taking the wrong view of weatherization. It is a great opportunity to restart the housing economy, if we think of it as investing in out-of-work construction and contracting professionals. Inner city homes tend to be old and leaky, but owned by people who can't afford to fix them up. What a great way for the feds to restart the economy without just sending checks.

Greg in Addison County:
(The prices) simply indicate just how totally unprepared the Douglas administration has been when it comes to planning for Vermont's energy future. The list of repeated failures is endless. A large number of Peak Oil advocates around the state have been trying to warn state and local officials about the dangers of Peak Oil for years now, but for the most part they have been ignored. Now, lacking any real preparation, the state is faced with a limited number of unattractive options that are reactive, rather than proactive. Too bad. Vermonters are going to pay the price, literally, for this failure.



Related Links

Vermont heating assistance programs Residential heating oil prices - What Consumers Should Know (Department of Energy)
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