The Missouri Energy Task Force has checked off several of the goals it set two years ago but one goal might be beyond its reach no matter how much progress it makes.
One of the goals of the task force is to help Missourians who need help paying their winter heating bills. The legislature has increased payments under the U tilicare program and made other changes in it but no permanent funding source has been found for the program. Weatherization efforts have been stepped up and the Public Service Commission, the Department of Natural Resources, and utilities are strengthening energy efficiency education programs.
But PSC Chairman Jeff Davis says there’s no escaping reality. "There’s always going to be more need than there is money available…The funding for the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program was essentially flat for the last twenty years and all the sudden, this year that amount of money has doubled. The problem is the price of natural gas, which sixty percent of Missourians use to heat their homes, has tripled in the last eight years," he says.
And he’s not sure the state can ever catch up to that inflation.
Davis says more than one-million homes were built before 19-70 that are not energy efficient, and more than half a million families are living below the poverty level. He says that adds up to a "tremendous need" made worse by high unemployment and a slowing economy.
But Davis says utilities seem to be working with people as we get deeper into winter. He thinks they are loathe to cut off utilities in the winter.