PUC, NorthWestern promote energy awareness

PUC, NorthWestern promote energy awareness The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and NorthWestern Energy have teamed up to educate natural gas customers about the upcoming winter heating season. Since October is Energy Awareness Month, the company and commission are urging consumers to act now to prepare for cold weather.

Nationwide, natural gas prices are expected to be approximately 20 percent higher this winter compared with last year. According to the Energy Information Administration of the U.S. Department of Energy, the increased prices reflect higher demand relative to supply along with recent trends for higher prices for other fossil fuels like oil and coal.

Utilities in South Dakota, including NorthWestern Energy adjust their natural gas prices on a monthly basis depending on actual market prices. NorthWestern Energy does not mark up the price of natural gas, but simply passes along the commodity cost directly to consumers. The utility is allowed to earn a profit (called a rate of return) from the delivery of natural gas to homes and businesses. The PUC carefully reviews the company's gas tracker to ensure customers are receiving the lowest cost possible based on market conditions and prices.

While customers cannot control the price they pay for natural gas, they can control how much energy they use. Information and education are important tools for saving energy and money. Here are just a few things you can do to ease the impact of higher natural gas prices.


* How much natural gas you use makes a big difference in your bill. The colder the weather, the more natural gas you use, the higher your bill. Keeping your thermostat at the lowest comfortable level (68 degrees on average) and lowering it to 60 degrees at night and when you're not home will help you use less energy. Installing a programmable thermostat will make this easier since it does the work for you. Turning your thermostat down too low may cause your furnace to work harder and, therefore, won't save you any money. Besides, you'll run the risk of frozen pipes.


* Call a professional to schedule an annual furnace check. They'll clean and inspect your furnace for any potential safety hazards. Regular maintenance keeps your furnace operating efficiently.


* Insulate with weather stripping and properly caulk window and door frames and plug air leaks around the furnace flue, attic door, outlets and plumbing. Keep your overhead garage door closed.


* Check the insulation in your attic, walls and floors. We recommend at least an "RU" value of 38 for the attic and 19 for walls. Higher values will make your home even cozier.


* Go online at (http://home

energysaver.lbl.gov/) to complete a "do-it-yourself" audit. More importantly, act on the recommendations you can afford. Every little bit helps.


* NorthWestern Energy offers a "budget billing" program, which allows customers to spread the costs of their winter heating bills over a longer period of time. All customers are eligible but you must have a zero-balance to qualify, so sign up now before the high bills appear in the mailbox. Contact NorthWestern Energy Customer Care at 1-800-245-6977 for more information.


* Many of our South Dakota customers may be eligible for help with their energy bills or home weatherization. The Department of Social Services, Office of Energy Assistance, sponsors the following programs for income-qualified customers.


* The Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP) provides financial assistance to low-income South Dakota households to pay their home heating bills. Energy assistance does not pay the full cost of a family's home heating. The program assists those families who would otherwise be unable to pay the cost of their home heating.


* The Weatherization Assistance Program helps low income households overcome the high cost of energy by making their homes more energy efficient. The local communication action agency performs an energy evaluation of your home to determine the need. Priority is given to households with elderly and handicapped individuals and to families with small children.


* The Energy Crisis Intervention Program (ECIP) is the emergency component of LIEAP. A household that has not received LIEAP fuel assistance during the heating season may qualify for ECIP fuel assistance. The household must be income-eligible and in a crisis. To qualify for ECIP furnace repair, the household must be eligible for fuel assistance and either have a furnace that has quit working or have a furnace that is not working properly.


* Fuel funds provide assistance to eligible customers facing heating emergencies.

Funding is tight and we encourage people to consider donating to programs or other charitable organizations that provide emergency energy assistance.


* Visit the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission's Web site for energy saving tips at www.puc.sd.gov.

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