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By Sam Bakken in News on Oct 12, 2005 8:59AM

10_2005_frozen.bmpIf you're like us here at the Chicagoist offices, you just finished paying People's for the energy you used last winter to warm your pad—and just in time to start paying out your ass for this winter!

The AP reports that at a hearing on energy costs yesterday, a number of U.S. Representatives from Illinois bandied talk of a possible 71 percent increase in heating costs this winter. Yep, that's right, read the headline.

The representatives met with a number of spokesmen for Illinois energy utilities and asked whether they were using HurTrina and Rita as excuses to inflate prices. A People's Energy spokesman said that "Well before Hurricane Katrina and Rita struck a devastating blow to the energy infrastructure, numerous yellow warning lights had already been flashing." On their Web site they say it simply comes down to an increase in demand (with a hotter than normal summer and growth in China and India) and a waning ability to meet it (due to increased Hurricane activity and slower-than-expected importation of liquefied natural gas). But we don't trust People's Energy any farther than the distance between the tip of their gun and our wallet, were they to shoot us in it point-blank to bleed it of every last dollar.

Now a 71 percent increase sounds just plain absurd. Just last month Blagga Daddy said 40 percent. People's says that gas prices are up 50 percent on the New York Mercantile Exchange, but their not saying exactly how that will affect consumers' bills. But anyway, up prices'll go. How far? Who knows!

To see if you qualify for energy assistance you can go to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program's Web site or attend one of Blago's Winter Assistance Events for more information and a free weatherization kit. If you want to donate money to the effort, go here. For some tips on how to save on your heat and other utilities, click here. To find an apartment for rent in San Diego, check here.