Officials say start winter prep now

ELLSWORTH — Sure you’ve been sweating this month, but it is Maine. That means there will be winter weather arriving sooner rather than later and all economic signs point to continued high energy costs. 

Home heating oil average costs more than doubled from May 2021 to May 2022, going from $2.55 a gallon to $5.86 a gallon. However, as of Aug. 1, that statewide average for oil had dropped to $4.81 a gallon, according to the Governor’s Energy Office. 

Hancock County Emergency Management Agency officials, including Director Andrew Sankey and Deputy Director/Planner Henry Obrey, want residents to start preparing now for winter and to plan for the unexpected. 

“If at all possible, try to do a fuel pre-buy,” Sankey said. Also, have dry, seasoned firewood available if you heat with wood. Make sure generators are properly installed and functioning. 

The agency is concerned that, given the prices of fuel, the most vulnerable community members are going to be at high risk this coming winter. 

“And the challenge isn’t so much just the cost of the fuels and goods and services but the availability, which is a whole other issue,” Sankey said, recalling the propane shortage Maine experienced in 2013. 

“All it takes is one hiccup at the refinery, you know, across the border, and diesel fuel oil or gasoline or whatever it is, evaporates for us here,” Sankey said. “So, there’s a lot of risks and a lot of hazards, you know, natural and technological and manmade that could have impacts on our supply lines.” 

That’s not to mention international issues weighing on energy prices and availability. 

“You need to be responsible for yourself,” Sankey said. “You can’t rely on the government.” 

There’s a tendency to think that warming shelters might be an option, but the reality is they are not. 

“Sheltering is pretty much nonexistent at this point,” Sankey said. “Unless we have truly dire, extreme circumstances, our ability to effectively conduct congregate sheltering for people just isn’t really reality. I mean, that’s the kind of thing that sounds good and looks good in movies, but our ability to pull that off here at the local level in Hancock County is pretty nominal at best.” 

There are extensive federal regulations that one needs to comply with to be called a shelter and that includes having a generator to power the entire building.  

Sankey has been reaching out to Hancock County municipalities about designating a “local, daytime, lifelines facility.” That’s a term coined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). 

In addition to fuel, residents should ideally have more than 72 hours’ worth of food in their homes for themselves and any animals they care for, including livestock. 

“I’m not saying you need to hoard,” Sankey said. 

Have shelf-stable foods, potable water and medicine for yourself and your pets.  

Get a plan for how you might communicate with your relatives should cellphones stop working. 

All is not lost. 

“Our greatest asset is we’re a rural community,” Sankey said. “We know one another. We know who the shut-ins are, the widows.” 

If you think you may need heating assistance this winter, there are a few options if you meet certain eligibility requirements. 

In Hancock and Washington counties, Downeast Community Partners (DCP) administers a federal heating assistance program called HEAP, formerly known as LIHEAP. However, it can take several weeks to qualify. 

Residents can call to make appointments for interviews for the program starting Sept. 6. 

The Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) helps qualified homeowners and renters pay for heating costs. Benefits include help paying for fuel and emergency fuel delivery. Residents can also qualify for energy-related repairs if they are eligible for HEAP. 

The agency said the application process normally takes from several weeks to over a month and involves both a written application and an interview to help determine eligibility and the level of benefit. The amount of benefit eligible households receive varies depending on household size, income and other factors. Benefits are typically paid to your fuel provider as a credit to your account. 

DCP also manages the local THAW fund, which is provided to residents of Hancock and Washington counties based on need, not income. Call (207) 664-2424 for more information. 

There is also an Energy Crisis Intervention Program, which is for people who have qualified for the HEAP program. 

Jennifer Osborn

Jennifer Osborn

Reporter and columnist at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Jennifer Osborn covers news and features on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle-Stonington. She welcomes tips and story ideas. She also writes the Gone Shopping column. Email Jennifer with your suggestions at [email protected] or call 667-2576.
Jennifer Osborn

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