CenterPoint Energy Informs Minnesotans About Heating Costs and Offers Tips to Get Ready for Winter

Source: CenterPoint Energy - Press Release
Section: Yahoo! Financial News - Yahoo! Finance
Date: 05-10-2005

MINNEAPOLIS, Oct. 5 /PRNewswire/ -- Wholesale natural gas prices are at record highs and are expected to remain high in the coming months. The result will be heating costs that are higher than last winter and that will set records for the cost of natural gas.

For CenterPoint Energy customers, the October residential billing price is $1.33 per therm, which is 77 percent higher than this time last year and the highest billing price on record (The residential billing price changes each month and only for natural gas used that month). For the upcoming year (August 2005 - July 2006), the company forecasts that a typical residential customer will see a total bill that is 40 percent higher than last year; this means a customer who had a bill last year of $1,000 will likely see a bill of about $1,400 in the coming year, assuming normal weather conditions.

Wholesale natural gas prices are at record highs because of a tight relationship between production and demand that began several years ago -- demand for natural gas continues to grow but production levels have not kept pace. Recently, demand has increased because of record high crude oil prices, and production has been hampered by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, both of which impacted production in the Gulf of Mexico for at least the short term. Nonetheless, supplies of natural gas to CenterPoint Energy customers in Minnesota will not be affected because the company has already secured its winter requirements and does not purchase natural gas from the Gulf area for use in Minnesota.

To help Minnesotans prepare for high heating costs, CenterPoint Energy is offering simple and affordable tips on staying safe and comfortable this heating season, as well as helping them manage their energy costs. The following information will help homeowners maximize the efficiency of their fuel-burning appliances, avoid appliance breakdowns, prevent carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, and reduce overall home energy use and costs.

Conservation quick tips:

  • Seal attic bypasses -- Only 20 percent of homes built before 1980 are well insulated. Reduce energy use up to 30 percent by investing just a few hundred dollars in insulation.
  • Weatherize the windows and doors -- Air infiltration contributes to as much as 30 percent of energy costs. Seal air leaks in the home and save as much as $200 a year.
  • Replace the old thermostat -- A programmable thermostat can save $100-$300 a year on heating and cooling costs and make a home more comfortable.
  • Change the furnace filter -- A dirty filter slows air flow and affects furnace efficiency. Inspect the filter monthly and replace it when it's dirty.
  • Install a low flow showerhead -- CenterPoint Energy customers can receive a free low flow showerhead which can lower a family's hot water use by 4,745 gallons a year and save money. Also, check your water heater temperature setting to save money and avoid scalding incidents. About 120 F is the recommended setting.

Schedule an annual heating system tune-up: Manufacturers recommend annual or routine maintenance of furnaces, boilers, fireplaces, water heaters, and other fuel-burning appliances. "A yearly tune-up helps ensure appliances operate safely and efficiently," says Tim Boettcher, a master technician for CenterPoint Energy Home Service Plus®. "It provides consumers with piece of mind by protecting them from the dangers of carbon monoxide, reducing the risk of inconvenient and expensive breakdowns during the winter months, and saving them money throughout the year because their appliances perform efficiently." An annual tune-up can save homeowners up to $100 per year, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Home Service Plus® expert technicians perform comprehensive annual furnace tune-ups to ensure the appliance performs safely and efficiently. Annual furnace tune-ups are a convenient opportunity for homeowners to receive expert advice from trained professionals, and ordering this service in the fall helps them avoid the stress of winter breakdowns. Boiler tune-ups are also available.

Schedule a home energy audit: CenterPoint Energy customers can order a home energy audit from a state certified auditor who will check doors, windows, insulation, and heating and cooling equipment for energy-saving options. For $25, customers receive up to $20 worth of energy saving materials -- including a free low flow showerhead if ordered between now and December 31, 2005 -- and comprehensive recommendations on reducing home energy use. For some income levels, the standard energy audit is provided at no charge. A Home Performance Audit costs $100 and includes a standard audit plus a blower door test to determine air leaks, a combustion safety test and CO check, and an infrared inspection that uses an infrared camera to further pinpoint the location of air leaks and moisture problems. Note: Due to increased demand, energy audits may be scheduled out six to eight weeks.

Make bills more predictable: By joining the CenterPoint Energy Budget Plan, customers can avoid the highs and lows of seasonal energy bills by spreading their costs evenly throughout the year. The Budget Plan calculates a customer's monthly payment amount based on past consumption of natural gas, projected natural gas prices and normal weather conditions. The plan starts in August of each year, but customers can join at any time. Similar programs are offered by other utilities.

Install a CO detection device for added safety: CO detection devices and appliance tune-ups work together to prevent CO accidents. CenterPoint Energy recommends installing a detection device with an audible alarm and digital readout near all sleeping areas. A free safety brochure, The Inside Story on Carbon Monoxide, is available by contacting CenterPoint Energy.

Visit the CenterPoint Energy Web site for energy savings information: The company Web site features comprehensive information on a variety of topics. The Energy and Your Home section includes an interactive feature allowing customers to calculate the dollar and energy savings of installing and using natural gas appliances including furnaces, water heaters, ranges, and clothes dryers. Visitors can see first-hand an "apples to apples" comparison between standard and high-efficiency natural gas appliances and electric appliances. This section includes the following subject areas: Managing Energy Costs; Heating with Natural Gas; and Natural Gas Throughout Your Home. Within these areas, visitors will find helpful tips and ideas for conserving energy and lowering costs. In addition, many of fact sheets and brochures can be downloaded and hotlinks to other helpful sites are available.

Call for assistance: Customers who are concerned about managing their heating costs this winter should contact their utility now to learn about available energy assistance for income-eligible customers and about their rights and obligations under the Cold Weather Rule. In addition, some customers might be eligible for discounted energy audits and assistance with weatherizing their homes.

Learn more or obtain information about natural gas prices, energy conservation, safety, and energy assistance at: (612) 372-4727
(800) 245-2377

Headquartered in Houston, TX, CenterPoint Energy is a domestic energy delivery company that includes electric transmission and distribution, natural gas distribution and sales, and interstate pipeline and gathering operations. The company serves nearly five million metered customers in six states and has assets of about $17 billion. With more than 9,000 employees, CenterPoint Energy and its predecessor companies have been in business for over 135 years. In Minnesota, CenterPoint Energy is the state's largest natural gas distribution company, serving more than 760,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers in over 240 communities. Home Service Plus®, the company's non-regulated business in Minnesota, offers products and services in the categories of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) and appliance repair, and HVAC and hearth equipment sales. Visit the Web site at .

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