Heating costs rise in Illinois

By Gus Bode

Prices to go up an estimated $15 to 30

Not only has Hurricane Katrina and Rita created nationwide concern of increased gasoline prices, but southern Illinois residents will feel the affects this winter when they have to pay more to heat their homes.

AmerenCIPS, the electric and gas company for southern Illinois, announced last week that on Saturday the rate will increase and cost customers an estimated $15 to $30 more per month, said Leigh Morris, spokesman for AmerenCIPS.

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The rate will rise 92.67 cents to 105.42 cents per therm, the rate by which natural gas is measured. The price could double if the winter is colder than last year.

“Natural gas costs have been rising over the past couple of years, and it is not going to stop now,” Morris said.

A monthly bill is broken into a two categories including a customer and delivery charge, and a purchased gas adjustment. The purchased gas adjustment rate, which is the portion of the bill that will increase, is the actual cost of natural gas and makes up 75 percent of the bill. The customer and delivery charge makes up rest of the bill and rarely changes. However, Morris said the company profits from the customer and delivery charge, not the natural gas charge.

Morris said November thru March is the season where people use their heat, with January and February being the most expensive months. In 2004, the average AmerenCIPS bill for January was $157.27 and $49.35 in November.

Morris said the best way to reduce heating costs is to purchase a programmable thermostat. The thermostat can be automatically programmed to turn low during the day and warmer when people are in the home.

He also said for every degree the thermostat is down, three percent is knocked off the monthly bill.

Morris said changing furnace filters regularly reduces how hard the furnace has to run.

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Bruce Doerr, purchasing agent for Wright Do-It Center in Murphysboro, said the warehouse always has several space heaters for sale.

“Almost every bit you put into some kind of energy saving product will pay for itself over a period of years,” Doerr said.

If those heating measures don’t produce a reasonable bill, help is available.

Paulette Hamlin is executive director of Western Egyptian, an agency that serves people who are on a fixed income and cannot afford basic necessities in Jackson, Perry, Randolph and Monroe counties.

Starting Nov. 1, students in the four-county area can apply for assistance with their heating bills under the low-income energy assistance program.

Hamlin said $2 million last year was doled out for more than 5,000 people.

“People on a limited income can have power running,” Hamlin said. “This way, they don’t have to decide between eating or heating their home.”

Reporter Matthew McConkey can be reached at [email protected]

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