As Pennsylvanians move into winter, the state’s top utility agency offers some tips on keeping bills down during the peak energy-use season.

Three main factors contribute to heating costs: the amount of energy used, its price, and the weather.

Nils Hagen-Frederiksen, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, said one way to manage costs is to shop for competitive electric and natural gas suppliers. Depending on the time of year, the national energy market and personal preferences, you might find a cheaper plan.

He listed some other energy-saving tips that can make a big difference.

“Simple things, like paying attention to your thermostat,” Hagen-Frederiksen suggested. “In the winter, depending on your home and your heating system, a one-degree change in your thermostat can impact your bill by up to 3%. Turning down the thermostat when you’re away can add up to a large amount of dollars at the end of the month.”

Homeowners and renters can shop for electric and natural gas suppliers online, at PAPowerSwitch.com and PAGasSwitch.com. Other ways to save on energy bills include keeping furnace filters and ducts clean and winterizing your home with insulation and storm doors.

For some families and small business owners, affording energy bills is a real concern. If you are in a difficult financial situation, Hagen-Frederiksen recommended calling your utility company to see if you qualify for assistance.

“Your utilities understand all of the programs that are available to them,” Hagen-Frederiksen explained. “They may be utility-run consumer assistance programs. There are hardship funds, charitable programs. There are federal programs like LIHEAP. There’s COVID-related rental and energy assistance.”

Utility assistance programs reached 293,000 electric customers and 167,000 natural gas customers in the state last year, helping them reduce monthly energy bills.

by Emily Scott


Stefan’s Two-Cents

Nothing angers us more in winter than opening our heating bill and seeing some outrageous amount that’s due in less than 3-weeks. We start to blame everyone including the utility company. “Close that door!” “Get the plastic on the windows!” “Go find a hoodie cause I’m turning down the thermostat!”

Like the article says, the three main factors contribute to heating costs are:

  1. the amount of energy used,
  2. its price,
  3. and the weather.

The real factor is the weather: When it gets colder, you use more energy and it’s going to cost more, not matter what your source of energy is that heats your home. I heard one women say that she couldn’t understand how her bill double from the month before when the thermostat was set on 70-degrees the whole time. She failed to take into account the average temperature outside dropped close to 10-degree during that second month and her furnace had to work twice as hard to maintain 70-degrees in her home. Since the price of energy stayed the same, when you use twice as much of it, you pay twice as much for it.

One good point in the article is one way to manage costs is to shop for competitive electric and natural gas suppliers. Unfortunately, those energy companies who send folks to knock on your doors and call you on the phone to get you to switch don’t aways play fair. I’ve got my own horror stories of having my electric and gas switched to other providers without my permission. Trying to stop it from happening is almost impossible. Unless you pay close attention to your utility bill you may never know you were switched because the company that you were switched to doesn’t bill you; they use the local utility billing system (PECO in the Philly area). You can definitely save money shopping for your own energy provider but it takes a little effort and you have to make sure you shop again when the contract ends.

And finally, affording energy bills is a real concern. If you are in a difficult financial situation, call your utility company to see if you qualify for assistance. There are federal programs like LIHEAP. There’s COVID-related rental and energy assistance.

My 3-step process for getting through the winter’s heating bills as best you can…

  1. Weatherize your home and turn the thermostat down as far as you can without being uncomfortable.
  2. Shop for the lowest rates for gas, electric, or heating oil. Check you monthly utility bills to make sure the energy provider you want is the one listed on the bill.
  3. If you need help paying your heating bills, ask. Don’t wait until you’re way behind. Don’t ignore the phone calls from the utility company. They don’t want to cut your utilities off. They want you to be their happy customer forever and they will work with you if you work with them.