BOSTON — The price for natural gas and home heating oil is soaring amid supply chain issues and rising inflation, which is putting a squeeze on energy consumers as winter approaches.

The U.S. Department of Energy is warning Americans that they will likely pay “significantly” more to heat their homes and keep the lights turned on over the next several months. Meanwhile, weather forecasts call for a colder-than-normal winter.

Overall, people who use natural gas to heat their homes are projected to pay an average of $746 this season, up nearly a third from last year, according to the Energy Information Administration. Those dependent on oil for heating will fork over almost $1,800 — a more than 40% hike over 2020, the agency said.

Consumer advocates say Massachusetts already has some of the highest energy costs in the nation, and increased gas and heating oil prices will have a particular impact on low-income households that already have trouble keeping up with expenses.

“I’m especially worried about people who live in poorly insulated homes and heat them with oil and propane, because those sources of energy are almost always more expensive,” said Charlie Harak, a senior attorney for energy and utility issues at the Boston-based National Consumer Law Center.

He said the economic fallout of the pandemic has worsened the situation and many of the emergency protections for energy consumers — including a statewide moratorium on utilities shutoffs — have been lifted.

That puts more than a million Massachusetts households that are 90 days or more behind in their utility bills at risk of losing heat and electricity, according to the law center. At least 7,000 households have been shut off since the state’s moratorium expired over the summer, the group says.

“There’s a lot of terminations happening now that the moratorium has ended,” Harak said.

What’s more, the number of households that aren’t considered low-income but are behind on their utility bills has increased 94% during the pandemic.

Harak said millions of dollars of federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program and Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program funds are available to avoid shutoffs, but the funding isn’t reaching enough people in need.

He said some consumers aren’t even aware that government help is available.

“Funds are available to assist many of the customers who are struggling to pay their past due balances, but urgent action is needed to identify vulnerable families and connect people to funding,” he said.

Energy bills reflect a combination of supply prices, which are based largely on market conditions, and delivery prices, which are set by state and federal regulators.

Utilities point out that winter rates are pass-through charges that only cover the cost of power, which they don’t control and are not allowed to profit from under state law.

Nationally, fuel prices are projected to be 33.1% higher for heating oil, 42.2% higher for propane and 14.4% higher for natural gas than last winter, according to federal energy agencies.

Meanwhile, gasoline prices have risen to an average of $3.40 in the past month, according to a recent report by the American Automobile Association.

The skyrocketing energy costs have prompted congressional lawmakers to call on President Joe Biden to take short-term steps to ease the burden on consumers.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren was among several lawmakers who wrote to Biden asking him to tap into the 600 million barrel federal Strategic Petroleum Reserve and the Northeast Home Heating Oil Reserve to help blunt the impact of rising energy costs.

“These predicted costs will have a very real effect on the ability of many New England families to keep their homes at a safe temperature this winter,” they wrote. “No family should have to make the decision between paying their bill to keep their children warm, putting food on the table, and keeping the lights on.”

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at

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