Anyone who’s spent a winter in Maine knows we’re in a constant battle with the elements. But for many Mainers, winter is also a time of major financial stress due to the cost of heating our homes.
Last winter, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, prices for home heating oil and propane were at their lowest in eight years due to lower demand for petroleum products. It was a relief for many families who faced financial difficulties during this time. But experts say that demand has rebounded, and with a colder winter predicted for 2021-22, the prices are spiking. The federal Energy Information Administration projects that the cost per gallon of heating oil, natural gas, and propane will rise by as much as 43 percent, 30 percent, and 54 percent, respectively.
So how can Mainers afford to heat their homes this winter?
MaineHousing’s Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP)
MaineHousing offers the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP), which offsets a portion of heating costs for Maine homeowners and renters. Benefits include help paying for fuel and emergency fuel delivery, as well as energy-related repairs. Eligibility depends on household size, income, and energy costs.
MaineHousing and other local agencies have $70 million available to support Maine families this winter. HEAP, though well-established, frequently goes unused.
“Only 20 to 25% of income-eligible households actually reach out and apply for the heating assistance program,” said MaineHousing Director Dan Brennan. “That’s only a quarter of people who are eligible. So people in Maine, our folks are proud and they don’t want to ask for help. They think that, you know, their neighbor needs it more than I do. There’s plenty of money. We have a lot of money available. We’re not going to run out. Please apply.”
Applications for HEAP are currently open. To see if you qualify and apply for the program, contact your local Community Action Agency (CAA).
2021 State Initiatives
In addition to the resources available through MaineHousing, Governor Mills has announced that the state will invest nearly $30 million in federal funding in heating assistance through the Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan. This money will be used in part to help low- and moderate-income families weatherize their homes through Efficiency Maine, adding insulation to help keep heat in and use less energy. $5.5 million will also be used to train people for jobs in the growing clean energy sector.
“Right now, Maine is the most heating oil-dependent state in the nation, something that our environment and Maine people pay the price for every time they go to turn up their thermostat. But it’s also something we can change,” said Governor Mills when announcing the planned investment. “Making homes and businesses more energy-efficient through weatherization cuts down on our use of harmful fossil fuels, protects our environment, and saves people money. Through the Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan, we will expand incentives to help people weatherize their homes and keep more of their hard-earned money, and we will train more Maine people to work in our growing clean energy sector, creating new green jobs and strengthening our economy.”
Energy Office Resource Guide
The Governor’s Energy Office has published a tips and resources guide designed to help Mainers ensure their heating system is efficient and get assistance if needed. Tips include scheduling annual system maintenance, asking your fuel provider about locking in a price for the winter, and scheduling automatic delivery to avoid emergency fueling.
The guide, as well as additional winter energy resources information, can be found here.
A rise in heating costs does not mean anyone has to freeze. There are programs and funds available to ensure that every Mainer stays warm this winter.