TRAVERSE CITY -- Mary Jo Lampton is acutely aware of how often her furnace hums to life this winter.
The Traverse City resident estimates she’s using a good 25 percent more heat this year than last.
“I try to turn it down during the day and at night,” Lampton said.
The same story is playing out across the state during a bitterly cold, relentless winter. Residents across the state are using far more energy to warm their homes.
And they're paying for it.
“It’s been a harsher winter than we’ve experienced in the past,” said Jessica Wheaton, spokeswoman for Traverse City Light & Power. “The harsher bills are reflecting that.”
TCL&P customers used substantially more electricity this winter than in 2012. In November, December and January, residential customers saw increases of 22 percent, 11 percent and an estimated 30 percent, respectively, on their bills compared to those months last year.
Cherryland Electric Cooperative customers fared a bit better; their bills were up about 9.2 percent in January compared to last year. Cherryland spokesman Nick Edson said some customers are using space heaters to warm their homes to cope with a propane shortage and subsequent price hike.
Statewide, utilities also reported increase in energy use and higher bills.
The average DTE Energy customer used 13 percent more energy in the first three months of this winter compared to last winter, said spokesman Scott Simons. The average Consumers Energy customer's use is up 26 percent.
“When we looked at January use, it’s $20 to $30 a month more for an average, residential customer,” said Roger Morgenstern, a spokesman for Consumers Energy.
Aid agencies had a front row seat to the heat crunch. The Northwest Michigan Community Action Agency, which offers heating assistance, spends an average of $627.05 each time it helps someone with metered fuel like electricity or natural gas, compared to around $400 last winter.
The cost to help people with deliverable fuel also is up to an average of $885.92 compared to $743.43 last year.
“I think a lot of it is the bitter cold, and then with the deliverable fuel I think the propane shortage and the firewood shortage we’ve been seeing in our area, coupled with frigid temperatures, has caused a dramatic rise in price,” said Tish Garthe-Shiner, the utility coordinator at NMCAA. “People are just going through their fuel sources a lot faster than they have in years before.”