Coulee Region residents battle high energy bills as natural gas costs rise

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) — Nights are getting colder, and the cost to keep warm is rising. Your energy bill this month might have been higher — and you’re not alone.

Bills are higher, and there’s not much we can do about it. In Wisconsin, heat is a necessity. Relief from those high bills might not come until spring.

“It was about 120 dollars last month. And then this month it was 318 … yeah, I was not expecting it,” said Emily Gerke, who lives in La Crosse. “Especially in the last couple months, finding myself pick up shifts more and more to make up for the prices of everything going up.”

AJ DePre, who also lives in La Crosse, is feeling the same pain.

“When I got my bill this month it was 270 … and I was like ‘yeah … whoa,'” DePre said. “You know, like that’s incredible. I can’t afford that.”

The soaring costs also strain La Crosse’s nonprofits.

“Us having physical spaces that are warm are incredibly important for the clients that we serve,” said Heidi Svee, the New Horizons program coordinator.

New Horizons’ shelter runs on a tight budget. Bigger bills impact program funding. After this first bill, Svee said New Horizons is OK, but in the future, they might need to ask for help.

“To pay for the increased costs, we’d put a call out to the community,” Svee said.

Xcel spokeswoman Chris Ouelette said prices are up 70-75% compared to last year.

“It is the highest we have seen in about seven years,” Ouelette said.

Xcel isn’t the only company passing these costs onto consumers, she said.

“This was mostly due to just a simple supply-and-demand issue. Production had not yet rebounded from the pandemic,” she said.

The price of natural gas rose by more than a dollar since last December, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

And it could be even worse: Gas prices actually peaked in October when we weren’t using our furnaces, the energy administration said.

Prices are falling, but they’re still more than a dollar above last year.

Ouelette expects supply chain issues to be resolved eventually, but the winter months will be costly.

“You can control some of that usage by doing those simple things. By turning down your heat during the daytime when you’re away from the house, turning it down at night,” Ouelette said.

DePre already follows energy-saving tips, but said they aren’t making a difference.

“I’m going to have to apply for energy assistance from Couleecap … and that’s how it’s affecting me,” DePre said.

State assistance is available, but it’s income-based and not everyone qualifies. If you need assistance with rising energy costs, WHEAP can help. Those who live in La Crosse County can apply for assistance at the Health and Human Services building downtown. They also can call the department at (608) 785-5582 or fill out an application online.

Every county in Wisconsin offers these services, too. If you would like to apply for services, Home Energy + has a map of all counties with information on where you can apply.

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