Due to our nation’s aging power grid, rising oil prices, and an even colder winter than last year, it is predicted that 90 percent of Americans will see a large spike in their electric and gas bills this season. According to a National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association report, the average US household will pay $992 in heating costs between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day. That number is up $94 from last year, or 10.5 percent.
These numbers will fluctuate depending on the region. The area from the Appalachian Mountains to the Midwest and into the Rocky Mountains will be colder, and therefore use more energy, earlier in the fall. However, the East Coast will see their temperatures drop later in the winter, saving money on heating bills for a couple of months before they start to rise.
Luckily, there are ways to reduce energy use and save money on electric and natural gas bills. One way the US electric power industry is helping consumers to reduce costs is by transitioning from regulated monopolies that generate, transmit, and distribute power to a more competitive market for power generation that allows customers to choose who provides their energy. This will provide more efficient power generation that costs less and can include newer, greener technologies beyond traditional methods.
In 1992, The Energy Policy Act opened up access to power transmission throughout the US. Since then, many nonutility electricity generators have been created. These include smaller companies and those supporting greener energy systems like wind and solar. Some states, such as California and Rhode Island, have passed utility industry restructuring laws and instituted pilot programs that give consumers the option to purchase their power from these additional generators. Other states have investigated restructuring options and/or are in the process of creating laws that would give consumers more choice. The remaining states, whose utility rates sit below the national average, have deemed restructuring of their systems not useful at this time. Overall, 24 states have passed legislation or regulatory orders that allow some level of retail competition within their borders.
The best way for consumers to get a deal on their electric and heating bills this winter is to shop around and compare electricity rates in their region. Find out where your state is in working to deregulate the energy industry and take advantage of the savings possible. It is also important, even once you’ve purchased your utility plans, to reduce energy usage in your home. These five steps can help:
- Lower your thermostat during the day. Open windows and allow sunlight to come in and heat your home while it’s available and you’re not around. At night, you’ll be able to afford to turn your thermostat up a bit to a comfortable level.
- Seal windows and doors. Replace old windows with newer, energy efficient ones and stop drafts from sneaking in by caulking gaps. Door sweeps can prevent cold air from wafting in as well.
- Shut the doors and turn out the lights. Keep unoccupied rooms from stealing all the energy. If no one is there, there is no reason to spend money keeping them comfortable!
- Replace or repair old appliances and fixtures. Leaky faucets and energy sucking refrigerators should be a thing of the past. Newer versions are available and can cut your usage and cost in half.
- Bundle up! Layering sweaters, donning slippers, and hiding under the covers is a great way to stay warm. You’ll be able to control your own body temperature without warming your entire space.