Michael Keckler is the public information officer for the Idaho Department of Water Resources.
Intermountain Gas customers in Southern Idaho felt it first. Now Avista Utility customers in Northern Idaho are also about to feel a financial sting from rising natural gas prices.
The Idaho Public Utilities Commission last week approved a rate increase that will amount to an average hike of 23.8 percent for each of Avista's 66,000 north Idaho customers. A month ago, Intermountain Gas rates climbed an average of 27.6 percent. Why? Because of a volatile wholesale market, natural gas prices are going through the roof.
And more rate hikes could be in the works for electricity too. Idaho Power has filed an application with the PUC to increase its base rates by an average of nearly 7.8 percent. This request comes on top of a 6.3 rate increase granted earlier this year.
We may not be able to do much about increased energy prices but there are things we can do as consumers to make the sting a little less painful.
First, making your home more energy efficient is becoming a more worthwhile investment every day. The Idaho Energy Division offers two different residential loan programs to help make your home more energy efficient. Both loans will fund projects between $1,000 and $15,000 at 4 percent interest for five years. You can add insulation, or replace your heating and hot water systems with more modern efficient systems. The Energy Division has a special hotline set up to answer questions about the loan program. Call the Idaho Energy Hotline at 1-800-334-SAVE and Public Information Specialist Linda Cawley will answer your questions and explain in detail what an Energy Division loan can do for you and how to apply.
Second, take some time and look around. There are things you can do today to help reduce expensive energy waste. Check for air leakage around doors and window frames. Clean or replace your furnace air filters regularly -- once a month. Turn down the thermostat on your water heater. You should find it on the side of the heater and by turning it down to the mid-temperature range -- about 115°F you should have plenty of hot water at a comfortable temperature. Check your hot air and return ducts in your crawl space and attics. The ducts should be insulated and as airtight as possible. Also, consider a programmable thermostat. These handy little devices usually pay for themselves within a year. Finally, contact your gas and electric companies and see about setting up an equal or level payment plan. This won't help reduce energy costs, but at least you can spread those costs -- and the pain out over the entire year.
If your home needs new windows, the Energy Division's newest loan includes an energy audit by a certified home performance specialist who will prepare a detailed report on what should be done to make your home more energy efficient.
More information on the loan program and what you can do to make your home for efficient is available on the Idaho Energy Division's Web site: www.idwr.idaho.gov/energy