Low temperatures causing higher utility bills

Low temperatures causing higher utility bills

AMARILLO, TX - Low temperatures are resulting in high utility bills across the panhandle keeping one local non-profit busy booking appointments.

Right now Panhandle Community Services has plenty of funding to help the less fortunate keep their homes warm, but with higher utility bills forecasted for 2014, the budget could run out. "This year particularly because we've had such a drastic cold spell, we're seeing more and more people with larger bills, so the inability to pay those bills is more predominant," Executive Director Magi York said.

PCS helps thousands of poverty-level families pay utility bills each year. The state distributed a $2.7 million grant for that purpose in January, but with cold weather prompting about 350 new calls for help in the past few days, the non-profit says they'll need a sizable second grant to last the rest of the year. "If we only get this original allotment, my prediction is we will run out of money,"York said.

A second grant will likely come in the summer, but how big of a grant is unclear. That's why the group wants citizens to conserve energy on their own. "Last year we took a look at why people's utility bills were so high," Acting Director of Comprehensive Energy Assistance Mary Twitty said. "So the contractor that we had doing that said to me is that furnace filters are not being changed properly."

Filters should be changed once a month during heating season. A simple task the agency says could help keep utility bills down and help the non-profit keep funds available to help as many families as possible.

More tips to conserve energy in the winter months include:

Open curtains on your south-facing windows during the day to allow sunlight to naturally heat your home

Close dampers on unused fireplaces

Use ventilating fans in bathrooms and kitchens sparingly

Close vents and doors in unused rooms and close cabinet and closet doors on outside walls

Avoid blocking vents and air returns with furniture, draperies or rugs

Set the furnace at 70 degrees Fahrenheit or lower during the day, or 58 degrees when away from home for more than a few hours

Check your attic to determine if it has the recommended amount of insulation for your region

Seal leaks around windows, doors and openings such as pipes or ducts with caulk or weather stripping

"While we have money, we would really like for people to see us as the provider of first service," York said.

To get an appointment with PCS, you can call the agency's 24-7 hotline at 1-855-459-3716, or sign up online.