Heating bills expected to rise dramatically this winter, how much will you pay?

NOW: Heating bills expected to rise dramatically this winter, how much will you pay?

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) --- If you thought you paid a lot to heat your home last year, just wait until this winter, as estimates show Wisconsinites see some of the highest heating bills in more than a decade.

Projections show homeowners and renters nationwide are expected to see a 17.2% increase in their heat bill compared to last year, according to forecasting by the National Energy Assistance Directors Association (NEADA).

NEADA reports show a typical household with natural gas will pay $925, up from $243 or 34% from last winter. It's the second year in a row of major price increases and comes as many residents are still battling rising inflation costs.

A spokeswoman for WEC Energy Group said Wisconsin customers are likely to pay $20 to $30 more per month on their heat bill.

"It's a continuation of what we saw last year, in part of the pandemic, with businesses still recovering, and a lot of it has to do with the war in Ukraine," said Alison Trouy, spokeswoman at WEC Energy Group. "It's created this perfect storm."

Prices are on the rise in part because of the heat waves this summer which forced utilities to draw down on their natural gas reserves. Global consumption is also high and oil prices soared after Russia invaded Ukraine, which reduced overall supplies.

Mark Wolfe, the executive director of NEADA, said "the rise in home energy costs this winter will put millions of lower income families at risk of falling behind on their energy bills and having no choice but to make difficult decisions between paying for food, medicine and rent."

Consumer advocacy groups are advising customers who are struggling financially to plan ahead.

Tom Content, executive director of Citizens Utility Board, recommends checking your eligibility for energy assistance programs offered through the local, state, and federal level.

"There are opportunities for savings, but it's a challenging time because we're seeing heating costs come at us at the same time the utilities, including WE Energies, are proposing some big electric price increases," Content said.

The state Public Services Commission will be holding a series of public hearings about proposed price hikes for consumers on top of the projected heat costs.

The Citizens Utility Board has tips on how you can combat rising energy and heat costs.

Milwaukee County offers savings through the Energy Assistance Program for qualified homeowners. Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance Program is based on income levels to help individuals pay for heat and electric bills.

The nonprofit Keep Wisconsin Warm & Cool Fund is also a statewide resource available for those struggling to pay their bills.

Beginning on Nov. 1, utility companies also cannot shut off your heat or electricity due to a state law. However, that does not apply to residents who are currently disconnected and behind on their bills. Officials recommend negotiating a repayment plan before the winter season.

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