Winter cost-cutting: Some residents turning to heating alternatives

Clayton Ortiz cuts pinon and pine Tuesday at David’s Firewood on 21st Street. The pieces of wood will be packaged and sold in stores. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By Tonya Garner: CNJ staff writer

Curry County residents will be paying more to heat their homes this winter.

On Wednesday, the Energy Department predicted winter heating bills will be a third to a half higher than last year for most families across the country — an average of $350 more for natural gas users and $378 more for fuel oil users.

The rising prices are blamed largely on Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which damaged oil and natural gas installations and disrupted production.

More than half of all U.S. households heat with natural gas. Nearly a third of the country relies on electric heat, but those homeowners may see their bills go up too, because many power plants run on natural gas.

Catherine Carlton of Public Services of New Mexico company estimated a 57 percent increase on an average natural gas bill for the winter season. PNM officials said an average residential monthly bill will be $157 this year compared to $99 in 2004.

PNM has 10,985 Clovis customers who use natural gas to heat their homes.

“PNM does not profit from high natural gas costs,” Carlton said. “By law, we can’t mark up costs.”

Carlton said the PNM company purchases natural gas from natural gas producers and is purchased from the San Juan Permian basin.

“The rising natural gas costs are due to the increase in demand,” Carlton added. “The demand is outpacing the production from the natural gas industry.”

Some area residents are seeking alternative heating methods.

David Whitener, owner of David’s Firewood in Clovis, said Wednesday business is booming.

“I have two or three people come in every day and say they are stocking up for the winter,” Whitener said.

Clovis resident Jolene Shirley said her family does not plan to make any changes this winter.

“I heard on the radio this afternoon that maybe gas prices won’t be as high as expected,” Shirley said. “We will just pay the bill if it does go up.”

Elmo Garcia, manager of Lowe’s Home Center, said the Clovis home improvement store customers on any budget can save money.

“One low cost method is weather stripping,” Garcia said. “High-end would be to replace all appliances throughout a home with ones that meet the Energy Star Program standards.”

According to PNM and Xcel officials, both utility companies have programs to assist low-income and senior citizens with their bills.

Curry County residents can also turn to the Income Support Division of the New Mexico Human Services Department for assistance with utility costs.

Olga Aldaz, director of the Curry County ISD office, said assistance is based on the national poverty level.

The New Mexico Legislature on Tuesday approved $37.5 million in a special session to provide needy New Mexicans with utility bill assistance.

According to www.xcelenergy.com, the top five ways to save energy:
• Have your furnace regularly maintained by a professional
• Keep your fireplace damper closed
• Seal duct leaks
• Use a programmable thermostat
• Open inside doors to improve air circulation
• For information on available assistance programs, Curry County residents can call 762-4751