Lower temps bring on wave of heating bills

By Jessica Kalin

As the temperature drops, DeKalb residents are turning up the heat on their furnaces and possibly their wallets.

Nicor, DeKalb’s natural gas provider, is expecting a 15-percent hike in gas prices this year, according to the company’s Web site.

No two heating bills are alike, due to different personal preferences, said a Nicor customer care representative who wanted to remain anonymous. Last winter, the average residential customer in a 2,000- to 2,500-square-foot home spent about $728 on heating, cooking and hot water, according to the Nicor Web site.

The 15-percent increase will raise the average bill to $837.

Homeowners and tenants with electric heat will see no rate increase.

“There is no change in rates going into the winter,” said Paul Callighan, ComEd external affairs manager.

ComEd, an electricity provider, has a fixed electricity price because of a 1997 utility deregulation act that is effective until 2006. The law was passed to begin deregulation of the industry and mandate alternative providers for customers.

Traditional rates, used to calculate bills, were rolled back to reflect 1995 rates and will remain frozen until January 2007. Bills can change only according to electricity use.

At this time, ComEd is DeKalb’s only provider of residential electricity.

Joe Sosnowski, office manager for Star Properties, 711 Lucinda Ave., said natural gas furnaces heat most of Star’s apartments.

“We recommend people watch their thermostats. That includes keeping doors and windows closed,” Sosnowski said.

He said renters should pay their monthly heating bill balances and keep the heat on during the winter. In the absence of heat, water pipes in apartment complexes can freeze and burst.

Gilbert Sebenste, NIU meteorologist, said the chances of a mild winter are low. It is expected to be a colder-than-average winter.

Callighan said residents need to be prepared for winter storms by having battery-powered radios and flashlights ready, as well as having plenty of blankets and a cell phone, in the event the electricity and heat go out.

“We have people who try to get out as soon as possible,” Callighan said. “But out in rural areas, the power can be out for a couple of days; you need to be prepared.”

To keep residents with heat this winter, both Nicor and ComEd have deferred payment plans.

Nicor will inspect natural gas leaks within the hour, but residents need to call a local contractor if their furnaces stop working.

If a power outage occurs, residents can call 1-800-Edison-1.