Editorial: Heating bills that make one shiver

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

‘Talk of your cold! through the parka’s fold it stabbed like a driven nail,” Robert Service, the bard of the Yukon, wrote in “The Cremation of Sam McGee,” but the cold he described lives on in the weather afflicting New Hampshire and dozens of other states. Meteorologists say the frigid temperatures may last until midmonth.

In the deep and prolonged cold, cold that settles into the bones, things break and systems fail. Pipes freeze and, given the laws of phase-change physics, take an inordinate amount of time and heat to thaw again. Cold saps the strength of batteries. Starter motors groan with the effort of pushing molasses-like oil around an engine. We view the construction crews replacing the city’s sewers, renovating its parking garage and building the Heights community center with a mixture of pity and awe. Pity for their plight as they move about looking like astronauts working outside the space station, awe at their ability to withstand temperatures that keep most everyone else indoors.

Atop Mount Washington, where last Thursday’s minus-34-degree temperature set a record for that date, a popular video showed boiling water instantly turning into snow as it was poured from a coffee pot by a meteorologist. Our adolescent president responded to New England’s plight by tweeting “Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming,” but temperatures across the rest of the world, save for the U.S. and Canada, are warmer than average. Climate change makes the weather weirder, more extreme and more dangerous. Now is the time to check on ill or elderly neighbors, who may not have the energy or money to stay warm.

Utility meters are spinning to keep the cold at bay and, even for those who bundle up and shiver to save on heating costs, the coming bills will be shocking.

Many customers will grumble and pay them, but for others the cost of the cold spell will change household economics for months to come.

We fear that the cold will exhaust the federal funds allotted for this winter’s Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program and hope the state’s congressional delegation is prepared to request additional help.

Prolonged cold saps the paychecks of the near poor, too – households that make a bit too much to qualify for federal help. We hope that those who can spare a bit will contribute to the Neighbor Helping Neighbor assistance program run by the state’s six Community Action Agencies in concert with three utilities: Unitil, Eversource and Liberty.

Every dollar donated is used to help struggling customers who find paying their bills a hardship. The utilities pay the CAP agencies to administer the program and, up to a point, match contributions to the fund.

Contributions can be included in utility bill payment or made directly by sending a check to the Neighbor Helping Neighbor Fund, P.O. Box 3804, Manchester, 03105-3804.

Meanwhile, stay warm, leave the water running a bit – burst pipes are worse than wasting water when the temperature goes negative – and take heart: Every day brings nearly two more minutes of sunshine.