MidAmerican Energy is alerting its customers that higher natural gas prices will impact most monthly heating bills during the upcoming winter season.
Natural gas market prices have more than doubled from this time last year, as increased global demand coupled with both limited production and inventory have heavily increased the cost for MidAmerican to purchase the natural gas it delivers to its customers.
“We’re not seeing signs of supply challenges this winter, but we do expect to see higher customer bills because of higher commodity prices,” Peggi Allenback, MidAmerican vice president of market operations and supply, said. “We don’t mark up what we pay for natural gas, rather the cost of the commodity is a straight pass-through to customers. We purchase a portion of gas in advance at the best possible price, and in warmer months, when gas is generally cheaper, we store it for use in winter to help protect our customers financially. Despite these efforts, though, we want our customers to understand that natural gas bills will still be higher this heating season.”
The higher market prices will affect a customer’s gas supply charge, which is the cost of the natural gas the customer uses. Market price fluctuations do not affect rates, which include fixed administrative costs, as well as costs associated with maintaining infrastructure and ensuring safety.
Actual bill impacts will vary by customer due to usage as temperatures get colder and market prices continue to fluctuate. But, based on the market prices for natural gas over the last month, residential customers in MidAmerican’s service area can likely expect their total bills to increase by 46-96%. The heating season runs from November through March.
February payback period continues for most customers
In February, a polar vortex resulted in a dramatic natural gas price spike and higher customer bills. MidAmerican worked with state regulators to spread out those costs over a longer period of time than normal to reduce the financial impact to gas customers. Those costs for February use will continue to be a part of customer gas supply charges for the next several months. In Iowa, MidAmerican is spreading the costs from the February event through April 2022. In Illinois, the payback period extends through March 2022. In South Dakota, the payback period ends in December.
MidAmerican offers a budget billing program to help customers ease bill fluctuations. The program is free for customers and stabilizes utility charges that vary by changing seasons and different energy usage patterns. Customers can enroll by calling MidAmerican at 888-427-5632, or through the My Account link on the company’s website at www.MidAmericanEnergy.com.
Once enrolled, the bill is reconciled periodically to ensure payments are on track with their actual use. Customers enrolled in budget billing can contact MidAmerican at any time for an evaluation if they are concerned that their budget billing amount is not on track with their use – they don’t have to wait for MidAmerican’s scheduled review.
Financial assistance for customers
MidAmerican encourages any customer facing financial hardship to communicate with the company to discuss options and potential assistance.
MidAmerican also urges its Iowa customers who may qualify to apply for aid from the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP. Customers in Illinois, South Dakota and Nebraska can apply for similar assistance through their respective state-administered aid programs.
Beyond LIHEAP, customers should check with their local community action agency for additional utility bill assistance that may be available.
MidAmerican sponsors its own residential bill payment assistance program, called I CARE, which is managed by community action agencies throughout its service area. I CARE enables people to help local community action agencies provide heating bill assistance and home weatherization to customers in need in their neighborhood. In 2020, the fund distributed $202,000 to community action agencies. For every $1 donated, MidAmerican contributes an additional 25 cents. Every donation, whether one-time or monthly, is directed to a community action agency in the donor’s area, so the program enables neighbors to help neighbors with heating assistance.
MidAmerican offers a variety of energy efficiency programs and rebates to help customers use less energy and save money, including a free online assessment tool called HomeCheck Online. Residential customers in Iowa and Illinois who complete the online assessment for the first time can receive a free energy efficiency kit, which includes energy-saving products that are easy to install. For more information, go to www.MidAmericanEnergy.com.
Customers can also take inexpensive and even free steps to help reduce energy use and save on monthly bills:
• 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.