By MELINDA WILLIAMS
Atmos Energy Corporation announced Friday that the natural gas bills of most of its Virginia utility customers could be “slightly higher” than last winter. The company, which serves Pulaski County, urges customers to take steps now to reduce energy costs.
“Our residential customers could expect, on average, to pay up to 3 percent more for the natural gas they use this winter, compared with their gas costs during the past winter,” said Kevin Akers, president of Atmos Energy’s Virginia Division. “The increase is the result of higher wholesale natural gas prices.”
He said Atmos doesn’t profit off of the natural gas it distributes to its utility customers.
In 2012, the wholesale cost of natural gas fell to its lowest point in nearly 10 years. Even with the projected increase, Atmos officials say customers will pay significantly less than the winter of 2008. That year, natural gas prices jumped dramatically to $13 per thousand cubic feet.
Residential customers can take steps now to save money on heating bills this winter.
“A little planning goes a long way when it comes to reducing winter heating bills,” said Akers. “Using energy wisely and making a few household changes can create substantial savings for customers.”
The company offered the following energy-saving tips:
•Change or clean furnace filters now and then once each month during the heating season. Furnaces consume less energy if they “breathe” more easily.
•Lower water heater temperatures to 120 degrees. This could cut water-heating costs by 20 percent.
•During the winter, set your thermostat to 70 degrees during the day and 58 degrees when away from home for more than a few hours.
•Close vents and doors in unused rooms and close cabinet and closet doors on outside walls because they can leak a great deal of air.
To help customers manage utility bills, Atmos offers several features, such as an energy calculator and energy advisor, on its website at www.atmosenergy.com.
The website also provides information on energy assistance programs that might be available for those having trouble paying their utility bill. Low‐income customers are eligible for federal energy assistance through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which helps pay energy bills and weatherize homes.
Akers emphasized that customers should call the company before their bills become delinquent. “By calling us to discuss a payment plan, we can work with them to help prevent a service disconnection and can help them find energy assistance that might be available,” he said.
Customers also are encouraged to have a licensed plumbing or heating contractor tune up natural gas furnaces and appliances each fall. “It’s a matter of safety, of course. But, servicing your appliances can also keep them operating efficiently to save costs,” said Akers.