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Frigid winter puts pressure on Asheville's Eblen

ASHEVILLE — The offices at Eblen Charities in Asheville are filling up each day with people in search of help with their heating bills.

January was one of the coldest in recent memory, pushing up demand for electricity, natural gas and other heating sources.

That will show up in higher heating costs across Western North Carolina.

“Colder weather in general increases customers’ energy use, and with that increased usage comes increased bills,” said Kristina Hill, spokeswoman for Duke Progress Energy.

Duke Energy Progress set a winter usage peak on Jan. 7. The demand for electricity broke a previous winter record set in January 2010.

PSNC Energy, which provides natural gas in the Asheville area, also reported record demand in January. Like Duke, Jan. 7 was a record day for PSNC.

The low temperature in the Asheville area that day was 1 below zero. The high only reached 20 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

In Buncombe County, about half the households rely on electricity for heat, according to the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey.

About 7,000 households in Buncombe County use propane, which has seen a big jump in price this winter.

The cold winter and a shortage of propane in the Midwest contributed to higher prices.

Blossman Technician Filling a Propane Tank

“In general, we’ve seen increases in all the prices this winter ... just because it’s been so cold,” said Sean Hill, economist with the U.S. Energy Information Association. “By far, the most dramatic increase has been in propane.”Numbers from the U.S. Energy Information Administration show the price of residential propane has risen by about 93 cents a gallon in North Carolina since the end of December.

Some states like North Carolina are sending gas to the Midwest, said John Jessup, executive director of the NC Propane Gas Association.

Jessup said heavy rain in the fall caused farmers in the Midwest to use more propane to dry crops. That coupled with the winter weather contributed to the shortage.

But Stuart Weidie, president of Blossman Gas, assured Western North Carolina residents, “there is more than an adequate supply of propane gas” in the area.

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