Christine Stuart photo
Roger Colton of Fisher, Sheehan and Colton talks about the report (Christine Stuart photo)

There are more than 313,000 Connecticut households that can’t afford to pay their energy bills.

That’s according to the annual Home Energy Affordability report, which found despite a drop in the price of home heating oil and natural gas there continues to be a significant gap between what lower-income households pay for energy and what they can afford to pay.

But the home energy affordability gap dropped from $784 million in 2014 to $471 million in 2015.

That’s the good news, Roger Colton, the report’s author said Wednesday at a Capitol press conference.

Colton said the price of natural gas has dropped nearly 20 percent and the price of fuel oil was down almost 50 percent in February 2015, compared to where it was just a year ago.

“The bad news is that despite a 40-percent decrease in the overall gap in Connecticut, the home energy affordability gap in Connecticut for 2015 was $471 million,” Colton said. “That’s the difference between what actual bills were in 2015 and what affordable bills would have been in 2015.”

On average, the 313,000 households who struggle to pay their energy bills owe about $1,506 more in annual energy bills than they can afford.

“The fact that the Home Energy Affordability Gap in Connecticut can decrease by more than $300 million, and still leave an aggregate cap substantially higher than available assistance resources, indicates the extent of the affordability gap crisis in Connecticut,” Colton said.

The federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program covered only about 14 percent of the latest energy affordability gap. Colton said Connecticut’s share of the federal funds dropped $5 million this year.

Patricia Wrice, executive director of Operation Fuel — an organization that helps residents who don’t qualify for federal heating assistance — said lower income households continue to be vulnerable to having their heat and electric services terminated.

“Even when those bills are paid on time and in full, it is often at the expense of other basic needs such as food, healthcare, and housing,” Wrice said.

The energy burden is not only on low income households. In Connecticut, according to Wrice, it has moved to households that have historically been considered to be “moderate income.”

Operation Fuel provided $3.6 million in energy assistant to more than 8,300 households this past fiscal year. But because of limited resources it still has to turn away residents seeking assistance at a time when the requests for assistance have increased.

Rep. Lonnie Reed, D-Branford, said the weather has been “balmy” so people might not feel the urgency to dedicate funds to Operation Fuel through their utility bill, but colder weather is always right around the corner.

“This is the holiday season. It’s a good time to begin remembering them,” Reed said. “And be planning ahead so we have resources available for those folks who are in our communities.”

Reed stressed that many of those in need of energy assistance are homeowners and could even be a neighbor.

Of the 21,361 individuals served by Operation Fuel during 2014 and 2015, 35 percent were homeowners, 9 percent were elderly, 39 percent were children, and 11 percent were disabled.