Malinda Paulson-Thibodeau, left, and her wife, Shelly Thibodeau, are doing everything they can to keep their Randolph home warm this winter. They have five children at home and the heating bill – they use oil and propane – is going to rise significantly even though they locked in at the lowest prices they could find. “I think the luxury of being warm is something that we’re just not going to have anymore,” Paulson-Thibodeau says. “It’s going to be what’s tolerable.” Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Warning: With oil prices hitting record highs, many electric rates nearly double what they were a year ago, and growing uncertainty about energy supplies, staying warm in Maine this winter may be an all-out crisis.

Across the state and across income levels, Mainers are crunching numbers and stocking up on blankets. Closing doors, chopping wood. And deciding what discomforts they can withstand to cushion the blow of an expensive winter.

Financial help is out there. The federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program provides funds to help pay winter heating bills for those who qualify. Congress recently boosted the program’s funding by $1 billion, including $8 million more for Maine. Lawmakers including Sen. Susan Collins are pushing to release this winter’s LIHEAP funds immediately.

But many Mainers struggling with heating costs don’t meet the income limits and other requirements to qualify for LIHEAP. Some people who do qualify say the program is backlogged.

Meanwhile, energy costs – especially oil and kerosene prices – are now a growing concern for people who had never worried about staying warm. No other state is more dependent on fuel oil than Maine, where oil and kerosene heat 60% of all homes.

You hear the concern in one community after another.


In Bowdoinham, Fred Cheney is considering a larger wood stove. 

He’ll be traveling soon, and his propane is ordered. He’s going to set his home thermostats at 55 degrees and “hope for the best,” he said.

Instead of the radiant heat he’s used in a large room of his house, though, he plans to heat for two months with wood from his 60-acre tree lot.

In Saco, Jennifer Knox installed solar panels to help save money after her heating bill shot up 50% last year. 

The 32 panels will help offset about 85% of her family of four’s electricity use. With rates expected to increase again next year, she’s banking that the solar switch was the right decision. 

In Wells, Julie MacKinnon has been concerned about the cost of electric heat, too. Initially, she and her family planned to install an oil-burning furnace, which they’ve used in former homes.


But MacKinnon recently redid the whole plan. Now she’s going to install a pellet stove, which she said looks like a real fireplace and will save a lot of money.

“When I was a kid, we lived in a house that wasn’t well-insulated,” she said. “I was brought up to go put on another sweater.”


Amanda Graham and her children huddled together in the kitchen on an unusually chilly September evening, trying to keep warm in front of the open oven.

She knew there would be much colder nights ahead. And with the three of them already bundled up in their Rumford home, Graham started to worry.

She’s out of work, she can’t afford oil, and there’s no secondary heat source in the home. After running up a nearly $300 Central Maine Power bill from keeping the oven on, she can’t afford to try electric blankets or space heaters.


“What am I going to do?” she asked.

Amanda Graham, right, is shown with her daughters, Akira Dunlop, 1, and Sephia, 13, in the living room of their home in Rumford on Saturday. The family has been struggling to figure out how to heat their home and haven’t been able to afford filling the oil tank. They recently received a donation of 100 gallons of heating oil through a local organization affiliated with the Praise Assembly of God church in Rumford. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Graham, 34, applied to LIHEAP, which has been a lifesaver in previous years. But it’s now in such high demand that she couldn’t get an appointment until late November.

With the temperature now dipping lower, Graham has tried to find help elsewhere. She’s called 211, the community services hotline. She’s reached out to churches and charitable organizations, General Assistance and the Salvation Army.

They’ve all said the same thing: So many families need assistance this year that there just aren’t enough funds to help everyone.

“This is the first year where I just can’t find any help,” she said.

While she waits for her appointment with a community action agency that processes LIHEAP applications, she’s trying to make do.


The house she’s rented for the last two-and-a-half years is difficult to heat. The brick construction is supposed to hold onto heat, but Graham said the house also holds onto the cold. She and her children try to stay on the first floor as much as possible, with a thick blanket blocking off the upstairs.

“I’m not able to get help with oil and I can’t bring the electric to the point where it’s going to get shut off,” she said. “It’s a lose-lose.”

Graham is frustrated seeing single people on social media seemingly able to get help while families like hers are left out in the cold. 

“Inflation is making everything crazy,” she said. “It’s crazy to see people out here, suffering, they can’t get any help and they’re freezing. They need to bring oil prices back down so it’s more affordable.”

Amanda Graham holds her 1-year-old daughter, Akira Dunlop, at their home in Rumford on Saturday. Graham, 34, is out of work and cannot afford to buy oil. She has applied for LIHEAP federal assistance, but that program is in high demand. “What am I going to do?” she wonders. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer


Malinda Paulson-Thibodeau began stocking up last spring on thick winter socks, down bedding and high-efficiency appliances. 


With the cost of heating oil nearly double what it was two years ago and electricity prices not far behind, Paulson-Thibodeau knew cranking up the thermostat in her six-bedroom home in Randolph wasn’t going to be an option. 

“I think the luxury of being warm is something that we’re just not going to have anymore,” she said. “It’s going to be what’s tolerable.” 

The three-story house runs off oil and propane. Even locked in at a discounted rate, it’s going to cost nearly $700 a month to heat, up from $500 last winter. She and her family have no secondary heat source and with the cost of electricity also at its peak, the space heaters they use in the upstairs bedrooms aren’t going to save much money.

In years past, Paulson-Thibodeau and her family have kept the house at around 70-72 degrees in the winter. But this year, she said,  the heat will be kept at no more than 66 degrees.

“Everybody is going to have to dress more appropriately for the weather, as opposed to T-shirts and shorts,” she said. “So lots of blankets, lots of hoodies, lots of very thick socks.”

Paulson-Thibodeau said she’s been researching other ways to cut down on the cost of heating.


For example, she’s putting bricks in the oven so that they’ll collect heat while she bakes. When she’s done, she’ll keep the oven open to let out the heat. The bricks will slowly release the warmth.

Paulson-Thibodeau has also scoured spring and summer sales and bought new comforters for all five children and a heated mattress pad for herself and her wife. She’s switched to LED lightbulbs and high-efficiency appliances. She’s talked to the kids about how to take shorter and staggered showers. In the morning, she’s now showering at her gym.

Paulson-Thibodeau and her wife are both nurses and are “on a pretty fixed income,” she said.

Even when she was a single mother, she didn’t qualify for assistance programs like LIHEAP, so she’s often had to be creative.

“We’re trying not to focus all of our efforts on one (idea) but squeeze as much as we can out of each,” she said.



Bonnie and Garry Wheeler have had the heat on in their Topsham home for at least a month. 

“It’s hard being this cold when you’re older,” Bonnie Wheeler, 81, said. “The older you get, the colder you get.” 

Like many seniors living on a fixed income, the Wheelers are worried about the price of oil. 

They concentrate on heating the living room and kitchen of their two-story home, and they’ve put backings on the curtains for better insulation. At night, the couple pile on quilts. One of their three children recently brought them an electric blanket. 

The home runs on oil heat, and the Wheelers usually supplement it with an electric stove to try to save fuel. But with the price of electricity, Bonnie Wheeler wonders if that’s really helping. 

The hot water tank also runs on oil, so they have to watch it closely and “pray it’s enough,” she said. 


She worries about other people in their community who will be isolated because of the cold weather, such as seniors who might choose to stay home or parents who won’t be able to afford travel with children. 

“How high is it going to go up?” she asked. “How many jobs can you hold?”

Wheeler is grateful for heating assistance programs, especially those designed for seniors, who she said are often less likely to ask for help. 

“I’m grateful there is help out there, though praise God, I don’t think we’ll need it,” she said.

This story has been updated to clarify the role of local offices that process LIHEAP applications.

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