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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — You know it’s cold out there when the three rivers ice over, making the prospect of a long, cold winter real.

“This is the coldest winter we’ve had possibly this decade,” says Mark Wolfe, executive director of the National Energy Assistance Directors Association. “A few months ago we thought this might be the coldest winter in three years. Now we’re thinking the coldest winter in 10 years.”

And that means more energy is needed to heat your home.

“January bills, and certainly February bills, are going to be much higher than last year,” predicts Wolfe.

The U.S. Department of Energy is predicting that our winter energy costs will grow — up eight percent for electricity, up 12 percent for natural gas, and up 17 percent for home heating oil.

In Pennsylvania, the Public Utility Commission approves rate requests, and current rates cannot be changed.

“At a time like this, rates may not change,” Nils Hagen-Frederiksen, PUC spokesman, told KDKA money editor Jon Delano, “but your bill itself could change rather substantially because your usage goes up when the temperature drops.”

Natural gas is the way most local residents heat their homes.

“In the summer you may only be using your stove or a gas dryer, but in the winter that furnace keeps running,” said Rita Black, director of customer relations at Peoples Gas. “And in temperatures like we’re having today, your furnace probably doesn’t shut off for very long, so you are using more gas, absolutely.”

The main reason your natural gas home heating bill is going up this winter is not because the price of that gas is going up.

It’s because you are using more of it.

And that’s something you can control, somewhat, even in cold weather.

Watch your temperature settings.

“Typically, in the winter time, every degree up or down on your thermostat can impact your bill up to three percent,” says Hagen-Frederiksen.

And don’t forget to change your air filter in the furnace, use weather stripping, and close off rooms you don’t need.

And while some areas may face a shortage in fuel, not us.

“We’re sitting on Marcellus shale here in Pennsylvania, so we have no worries about running out of gas,” notes Black.

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