Residents from Richmond to Philadelphia are paying more to heat their homes this winter than last year, and trends point to further increases, an energy group headed by consumer advocate Ralph Nader reported this week.
A study by the group, Buyers Up, shows that despite lower electrical and natural gas rates in the region, record cold temperatures in January increased energy consumption, thereby raising homeowners' fuel bills.
According to the report, the typical household in the Middle Atlantic region paid more than $25 more to heat its home last month than it did in January 1987.
Energy prices increased 20.1 percent in the District of Columbia, 13.6 percent in Baltimore, and 18 percent in Philadelphia and Richmond over the same period, the study said.
Buyers Up said the increases varied according to the type of heating fuel used by consumers.
The group said heating oil users experienced the largest increase, with an average household paying as much as $43 more this January than last year. Households that heated with electricity had increases averaging $23 in January.
But users of natural gas were spared large increases because of lower rates, Buyers Up said. The group's study showed that in all cities surveyed except Baltimore -- where gas rates went down -- gas consumers paid only an average of $9 more than in 1987.
Jason Adkins, president of Buyers Up, warned that even though natural gas and electric rates have declined slightly, utility company requests for rate hikes threaten to increase prices of heating sources.
"Utility requests for rate increases were just implemented in Philadelphia and similar actions are pending in Washington," Adkins said. "Consumers should definitely shop around and take advantage of discount price programs offered through consumer groups."
According to the latest report by the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, the District has the nation's fifth-highest natural gas prices, and Philadelphia has the sixth-highest electric rates.
Heating oil prices in Washington are the second highest in the nation, ranking after those in New York City, the utility panel said.