According to the National Energy Assistance Directors Association (NEADA), home heating costs are expected to rise yet again this winter. This is especially true in Appalachia, where some power companies have already begun notifying families of impending price hikes. Although there are a few justifications for these price hikes, the companies primarily attribute them to the rising cost of natural gas, which is used to heat and cool about half the homes in the U.S. These prices, which have risen globally, are expected to stay high through the winter.
Across most of Appalachia, energy generation is very dependent on traditional fossil fuels. For example, in West Virginia, coal currently fuels about 72% of energy generation, and natural gas about 19%. In Virginia, only 6% of the power used by the company’s customers is generated by renewables. In communities where energy generation is so dependent on fossil fuels, energy producers will often shift the cost of resources becoming more expensive onto families. This is all too real today, as energy producers have responded to rising costs in natural gas with price hikes for consumers.
To make matters worse, there is far less federal aid available to help deal with these increased costs than there was last year. Under the American Rescue Plan, passed in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program received billions of dollars in extra funding. This funding, which helped families offset the costs of utilities and other bills, has all but been used up, and Congress has not yet approved another appropriation. As winter approaches, families may struggle with the fact their utility bills will be more expensive.