Since Oct. 7, the price of natural gas has gone up by 19.4 percent, according to Douglas I. Oliver, a spokesman for Philadelphia Gas Works.
"We anticipate that this latest increase will raise the average customer bill by $335 per year," he said.
Combined with a price hike on Sept. 1, the price of natural gas for PGW's 500,000 customers has increased by a total of 24.3 percent.
But natural gas is not the only type of heating source that will cost folks more this winter. The price of fuel oil has seen a significant jump, according to Jim Ferrante, manager of V. Ferrante Oil, a company that fills oil heating tanks in North and Northeast Philadelphia.
Two years ago, the company was able to offer its oil at $1.35 per gallon; this season, the price has shot to $2.39.
Ferrante said he knows that the price hike will hit seniors particularly hard.
"They're just not going to be able to make it," he said. "People are still putting it on credit cards from last year."
According to Ferrante, a three-bedroom row home has an average tank holding 800 gallons of oil, which should last through the season. With those numbers in mind, the increase could cost families with oil heat $800 more than it did just two years ago.
Blame It on the Rain!
Many experts blame the increases on hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which pounded Gulf Coast refineries, interrupted the flow of gas and led to price hikes.
Said Oliver: "The hurricanes came through and put us on a whole different stratosphere."
But he also pointed out that the effects of this year's hurricane season - on Monday, Hurricane Wilma was forming in the Caribbean, perhaps posing yet another threat to already battered areas - will be felt long after this winter ends.
"The hurricanes created more than just gasoline problems, and we'll see the fallout in the months and years to come," he said. "It put supply-and-demand issues to the forefront for many organizations."
To help relieve some of the burden of rising utility costs, Jewish Family and Children's Service of Greater Philadelphia is increasing its fundraising activities in an effort to provide its clients with some badly-needed extra cash.
"We are very much aware of the problem," replied Joanne Lippert, manger of critical needs for JFCS. "The predictions are dire."
To that end, the group is kicking off a program called Phill'er Up Philly: The Fuel-Tank Project, which is expected to raise money to help people not only with the cost of home heating, but also with filling up the gas tanks in their automobiles.
"The unprecedented rise in the cost of heating and gasoline is the biggest critical need for our clients this season," reported JFCS spokesperson Amy Lebo.
At the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, staffers are hoping to make the organization's emergency fund available for seniors whose utility service has been shut off. Qualifying seniors could get as much as $100 this year to help pay the fees associated with interrupted service, but the fund may not become available until Dec. 1.
PCA call-center director Christopher Gallagher warned that with relief agencies only offering small amounts of money, the onus may be on families and social workers to try to gather funding from a host of multiple sources.
"Social workers have to coordinate all these places," said Gallagher. "It's pretty rare that $100 would get [the heat] back on."
Battling the Thermostat
To deal with the cost of heat, Beth Emeth-B'nai Yitzhok in Northeast Philadelphia plans to hold its winter services in the synagogue's smaller chapel rather than in the larger sanctuary.
"It costs less to both light and heat," said Rabbi Mitchell Romirowsky of the space, which the congregation has also used the past two winters. "It's a nice room finished in wood, and seats 75 to 80. On weeks when we don't have special events, that room comfortably accommodates our gatherings."
Rabbi Moshe Trager, a mohel who lives with his wife and four children in a seven-bedroom stone house in Bala Cynwyd, said that he is bracing himself for the higher heating bills.
"I'm not turning my heat on until absolutely necessary," he said. "Last year, I had bills that were $700 to $800. I'll turn it on when my wife starts complaining."