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MUD, MidAmerican Energy warn utility customers of gas bill spike

Published: Oct. 12, 2021 at 1:19 PM CDT
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(WOWT) - Local utility companies on Tuesday were bracing customers for an increase in heating bills this winter.

Citing a surge in the gas market prices, MidAmerican Energy said customers “can likely expect their total bills to increase by 46-96%” during the “heating season,” which typically runs from November through March.

“We’re not seeing signs of supply challenges this winter, but we do expect to see higher customer bills because of higher commodity prices,” said Peggi Allenback, MidAmerican vice president of market operations and supply, in a release.

Having 600,000 customers in Iowa and 4,500 in Nebraska, MidAmerican wanted to shoot a flare Tuesday so its customers know that a big jump is possible.

“There are a lot of market forces in play causing that. It’s nothing that’s local. It’s a global issue. Prices are much higher on the global market than they were this time last year,” said Geoff Greenwood with MidAmerican Energy.

Last winter’s polar vortex caused a price surge for natural gas, and MAE said they worked with state regulators to spread those costs out. For Iowa residents, those costs from the February 2021 weather event will continue through April 2022. In comparison, Illinois’ payback period is slated to end in March 2022, while South Dakota will finish those payments in December.

Municipal Utility District customers are in the same boat. MUD, which provides natural gas to 235,000 Nebraskans in Omaha and beyond, agreed there will be an increase in bills, but officials there aren’t sure how much of an increase to expect since gas prices have been changing daily, even hourly at times.

Stephanie Mueller, vice president of MUD corporate communications, said “the rates are fluctuating quite a bit, and that’s supply and demand. I think demand has grown, and supply hasn’t kept up. The U.S. storage is down, so we have seen prices fluctuate. But I don’t think it will be to the extent you mentioned.”

Of course, all of this could change if we have a mild winter — or be worse if it’s a bitter, cold winter.

“Residential customers will see an increase this year. We’re just not sure how much,” said Mueller.

Both utilities are locked in supply and lower prices early to try to limit the damage to our pocketbooks, and urge anyone who has trouble paying to please let them know so they can work with you.

“Conservation is very important right now. For every degree you lower the thermostat, you save one percent in energy costs. And if everyone did that, we would be in much better shape for the colder months,” said Mueller.

MidAmerican reminded customers of various financial assistance options available to them. Customers can sign up for the budget billing program, which can help ease bill fluctuations, online or by calling 888-427-5632; or they can sign up for assistance from the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program.

There is also temporary assistance available for MAE customers having trouble paying their bills because of COVID-19. MUD customers can also apply for similar assistance. There’s also CARES Act utility bill assistance available for Douglas County residents.

MAE also offered the following tips to increase energy efficiency at home:

  • Be smart when setting your thermostat. By setting your thermostat as low as is comfortable, you’ll save money. Set it even cooler while you’re sleeping. You can also save with a programmable thermostat that automatically adjusts the indoor temperature when you’re away or sleeping.
  • Service your furnace. Have your furnace serviced once a year to ensure it’s working safely and efficiently. Clean or replace filters once a month or as recommended by the manufacturer.
  • Set your water heater to 120 degrees. The U.S. Department of Energy recommends setting your water heater to 120 degrees, which is not enough to cause scalding but is still hot enough to keep diseases at bay and is considered relatively energy efficient.
  • Seal leaks. Locate and seal any leaks from your air ducts. Use weather stripping to help seal leaky windows and doors.
  • Check your insulation. Consider whether you need to add or replace your home’s insulation. Insulation reduces energy demand in both the winter and summer.
  • Close your curtains at night. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, closing your curtains at night during the winter can help reduce heat loss in a room up to 10%. During the day, open your south-facing curtains and shades to take advantage of the sunshine

MidAmerican Energy serves electric and natural gas customers across Iowa and in Illinois, South Dakota; and natural gas customers in parts of Nebraska.

“We wanted our customers to know now that they will see an impact on their winter heating bills because of the big changes in the natural gas market — changes from last year to now,” said Greenwood.

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