CUB Report: Weather Extremes Make IL Homes Top National Energy User, But Utility Programs Offer Up To $37 Million/Year In Savings

Ahead Of Winter Bill Spike, Cub Releases Free Guide On Money-Saving Programs

CHICAGO, Oct. 14, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Weather extremes help rank Illinois among the nation's top household energy guzzlers, but money-saving programs could allow families to cut their electric and natural gas bills by $36.7 million a year, according to a Citizens Utility Board (CUB) report released Monday.

"Energy Efficiency Potential in the Land of Lincoln" reports that in the face of significant energy challenges never before have Illinois consumers been offered a more comprehensive collection of utility efficiency programs, such as discounted home energy audits, low-priced light bulbs and furnace rebates. On Monday, CUB launched a new guide, at www.CitizensUtilityBoard.org, outlining such programs.

However, the report also warned against "efficiency rollback" and called on utilities across Illinois to improve and expand the money-saving programs. 

"Our energy bills take a beating from Illinois' weather extremes—cold snaps and heat waves," CUB Executive Director David Kolata said. "At the same time there's up to $37 million in potential savings through efficiency programs offered by gas and electric utilities. Heading into the winter heating season, we want to make sure consumers know how they can combat historically high energy usage."  

CUB's report was sparked by state-specific fact sheets released in August by the federal Energy Information Administration (EIA). The 2009 figures, the latest available, showed that Illinois households devour an average of 128.8 million British Thermal Units (Btus) a year. That's 44 percent above the national average, and it outpaces the EIA's usage estimates for the rest of the Midwest. Heating and cooling take up more than half the energy used by an Illinois home, the EIA estimated—and families pay a steep price, burning $2,067 a year on energy, 2 percent above the national average.

More recently, the EIA predicted a 13 percent spike in Midwest winter gas bills.   

But those numbers only tell part of the story. State laws passed since 2007 mandate that utilities reduce energy delivered and meet an Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard through customer programs. Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) filings show that by the end of this program year, June 2013 through May 2014, such offers could save enough energy—up to 12 million therms and 413 million kilowatt-hours—to power 1 million refrigerators for a year. Using current utility rates, CUB estimated that could cut utility bills by $36.7 million a year. The programs, outlined in CUB's new guide, include:

Light bulb discounts: Commonwealth Edison and Ameren Illinois offer instant, in-store discounts on efficient Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) bulbs.

Rebates: Major gas and electric utilities offer rebates of up to $1,000 off products that help make a home more efficient, including a new boiler or furnace.   

Appliance Recycling: ComEd and Ameren will pay $35 to $50 to participants who allow the companies to pick up an old,  working second refrigerator and responsibly dispose of it.

Audits: Ameren, ComEd, and Nicor Gas offer home energy audits—discounted by $400 or more—in which a trained professional makes and recommends basic efficiency improvements.

These utility programs—monitored by the ICC and consumer advocates such as CUB—are funded through a small "energy efficiency" charge on bills. However, the programs are mandated by law to be cost-effective, meaning their money- and energy-saving benefits must outweigh those bill charges.   

The utilities are now filing their efficiency proposals for the next program year, and CUB plans to call for an expansion of the programs to increase potential savings for customers.

"It's not about forcing you to take drastic measures—like wearing your winter coat to bed,"  Kolata said. "These programs offer simple ways to cut costs and improve comfort in your home. They're just the tip of the iceberg of what customers will be able to enjoy in the coming years."

Beyond the utilities, there are efficiency opportunities offered by third parties. For example, CUB has a free tool, www.CUBenergysaver.com, which has been showing consumers how simple actions can cut utility bills by an average of about $100 a year. Also, plans by electric utilities to install more than 4 million digital "smart meters" could revolutionize efficiency by giving consumers more information about their energy usage. In the meantime, CUB offered these winter tips:

  • For every degree you lower your thermostat, you can save up to 3 percent in energy costs. Set the temperature no higher than 68 degrees when home, 62 when away or sleeping.
  • Reduce air leakage through drafty windows and doors, and insulate the attic.
  • Close doors to empty rooms. Use sunlight to heat rooms during the day, close blinds at night.  
  • Clear radiators and baseboards of dust, carpets or furniture that block the circulation of heat.
  • Check the heating and cooling system's air filter regularly. Replace it about every three months.
  • Make sure a trained professional checks heating and cooling equipment once a year.
  • Reduce the water heater temperature to 120 degrees.

In addition to the guide, CUB in October is offering an "Energy Smart" Facebook contest in which participants answer a quiz question each week for a chance to win efficiency-themed prizes, including $100 off an energy bill and a free home audit. Find it at www.facebook.com/cubillinois.

CUB is Illinois' leading nonprofit utility watchdog organization. Created by the Illinois Legislature, CUB opened its doors in 1984 to represent the interests of residential and small-business utility customers. Since then, CUB has saved consumers more than $10 billion by helping to block rate hikes and secure consumer refunds. For more information, call 1-800-669-5556, or visit CUB's award-winning website, www.CitizensUtilityBoard.org.

SOURCE Citizens Utility Board



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