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A Message from Your Consumer Counsel Regarding Your Winter Heating Bills

October 24, 2005

As you have probably heard in the news lately, the price of natural gas is at an all time high. This means that your heating bills this winter will be higher than you have ever paid before. How much higher? I donít know the answer to that question, but for budgeting purposes I would plan on paying 50% more than you did last year to heat your home.

For most of our Kansas gas utilities, the price of natural gas consumers paid on their heating bills last year was in the $7.00 to $8.00 per Mcf range. This year, I expect the gas price consumers see on their bill to range between $11.00 and $13.00 per Mcf. Prices could be slightly higher or slightly lower depending on what happens in the natural gas markets, but the bottom line is you will be paying considerably more to heat your house this winter.

In a normal January, the average consumer in Kansas uses about 20 Mcfís of natural gas to heat their home. How much natural gas you actually use to heat your home will depend on how cold it is this winter, the efficiency of your furnace, the level of your home insulation, your attention to weatherizing and preparing your home for the winter, and most importantly, the level you set your thermostat. It might be a good idea to review your bills from last year to get an idea of how much natural gas you use in the winter months.

Last year, winter weather in Kansas was actually warmer than we normally expect. Even though natural gas prices were high last year, you probably used less natural gas to heat your home than you would in a normal winter. While forecasters are saying that the Midwest should have another warmer than normal winter this year, having lived in Kansas all my life, I am not planning my heating budget around this forecast. Neither should you. Consumers must understand that the colder it gets outside, the harder your furnace works and the more natural gas you use to keep your house warm.

The size of your heating bill will depend directly on the actions you take. First and foremost, turn down your thermostat. Iíve heard it said that turning down your thermostat by one degree can save 2-3 percent on your heating bill. I donít know whether these numbers are right, but without a doubt, turning down your thermostat is the simplest and most direct way to lower your heating bill. Personally, I will be putting on a sweater and setting my thermostat to 60 degrees during the day, and turning it lower at night when we are sleeping or when we are away from home. We also have a thermostat that automatically turns the heat down at night and turns it back up 20 minutes before we get out of bed in the morning. These automatic thermostats are inexpensive and available at any hardware store. I will also be getting my furnace cleaned and checked, and I will make sure to replace my furnace filters.

There are other simple and inexpensive measures that every consumer can use to save on their heating bills. For example, close the vent and close off rooms that you donít routinely use, caulk around windows and doors and close any other spaces around windows and doors that let cold air into your house, re-tape the joints in your duct work, turn your water heater temperature down and buy insulation wrap for your hot water heater and hot water pipes and make sure vents are not covered by furniture, draperies or rugs.

If you have the ability to make more substantial upgrades to your home, now would be an excellent time to evaluate whether to upgrade your furnace to a high efficiency model. Depending on the age of your current furnace, replacing your old furnace with a new high-efficiency furnace can produce 20 percent to 40 percent reductions in your heating bills. Insulation, storm windows or even total window replacement may also provide substantial efficiency improvements. The energy savings and bill savings that result from these upgrades will not only pay for the cost of these improvements in a short period of time, but will enhance the comfort and value of your home.

We cannot control the price of natural gas in the market, and unfortunately, this winter, natural gas prices are going to be at record highs. However, you are in control of how much natural gas you use. You must take action to reduce your natural gas usage and your heating bills. I urge you to take action now so that you are prepared as the weather turns cold in the next month or two. Also, please make sure to warn all of your friends, neighbors and family about what to expect this winter.

One final thought. We as Americans are truly generous. We donate to tsunami relief, earthquake relief, hurricane relief and numerous other worthy causes. This winter, there will be many in your community that will struggle to pay their heating bills. Senior citizens on fixed incomes and those with lower income levels are most at risk from increased cost of heating a home this winter. I urge you to support you local and state level charitable organizations that provide utility bill relief.

For more information and tips on saving energy, please visit the web links at the side of this page.

David Springe
Consumer Counsel