RICHMOND, Va., Jan. 14 /PRNewswire/ -- With unusually cold weather recently causing Virginia homeowners to use as much as 33 percent more energy for heating than last year, Dominion Virginia Power is encouraging customers to take steps to save energy and money.
"Outdoor temperatures drives home energy usage more than any other single factor," said Alison Kaufmann, an energy conservation specialist at Dominion Virginia Power. "The extremely cold weather in recent weeks is sending just about everyone's energy bills higher, but there are steps you can take to control your energy use."
Kaufmann said some of the lowest-cost, most effective measures include:
- Setting the thermostat to the lowest temperature that leaves you comfortable. Dominion and the U.S. Department of Energy generally recommend 68 degrees. If you have a heat pump, it is important that you leave it on a constant setting for maximum energy savings.
- Keeping the water heater set at 120 degrees. If your water heater is located in an unheated space, install an insulation wrap on the heater and adjacent pipes to prevent heat loss.
- Sealing any areas where you feel cold air coming into the house, such as underneath and around exterior doors, windows and electric outlets.
- Closing the flue to any fireplace that is not in use.
For further information on these and other low-cost winter energy tips, go to www.dom.com search winter tips. Tax credits of up to $1,500 may also be available for home energy efficiency improvements. Additional information is available at: www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=tax_credits.tx_index
Weather impact on heating needs
Like much of the rest of the nation, winter temperatures in Virginia thus far have been significantly colder than normal – and extended periods of below-average temperatures affect home heating needs more than intense but brief cold snaps.
As a result, the amount of energy needed to heat a typical single-family home also has increased significantly. Based on National Weather Service data, the increased heating energy need since December 1 has been:
- Northern Virginia – 15 percent,
- Richmond – 31 percent, and
- Hampton Roads area – 33 percent.
Kaufmann noted that customers should not expect to see their bills go up by that much because many other uses of electricity – such as lighting, cooking, washing and drying clothes, and computers – are not affected by the weather. However, customers should expect higher bills even though Dominion Virginia Power's rates are slightly lower today than they were a year ago.
Customers with online access to their bills can see their usage history for the past 18 months under the tab "Account Management." Under "Energy Conservation," customers can compare and analyze changes in their energy usage, including access to information about the impact of weather, changes in rates and more
Higher energy bills and the country's persistent recession are driving up demand for winter heating assistance funds in Virginia and around the nation.
Any customer having trouble paying an electric bill should call Dominion Virginia Power's toll-free customer service number, 1-888-667-3000. The company is committed to working with customers and will explore all options available.
While the application period has ended for the federal Low Income Heating Assistance Program (LIHEAP), the Commonwealth Crisis Assistance program, which can help pay up to $435 for winter heating bills, is available for qualifying customers facing a heating emergency.
For further information on qualifying and applying for this program, customers can call 2-1-1 to locate the nearest office of the Virginia Department of Social Services or go to http://www.dss.virginia.gov/benefit/ea/crisis/index.html.
EnergyShare, a Dominion Virginia Power energy assistance program of last resort, already has seen a sharp increase in requests for assistance, but funds are still available for people in need, said Rita Randolph, senior community affairs representative. Customers who believe they qualify for EnergyShare should call Dominion at 1-888-667-3000.
Recognizing that many company customers are facing economic hardships not experienced in several generations, Dominion has contributed $2.5 million to the program since the start of the winter heating season in November.
Customers also have increased contributions to the program. In November and December last year, customers contributed $380,986, approximately $136,500 more than during the same two months the previous year.
"Dominion covers the program's administrative costs, so every dollar customers contribute will go toward helping someone stay warm," said Randolph.
To contribute to EnergyShare, simply add $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $25, or $35 to the amount due on your bill. Overpayments in these exact amounts are automatically recognized as a contribution and it will be documented on your next bill. Or, mail a check for any amount (made payable to "EnergyShare") to EnergyShare, P.O. Box 11186, Richmond, VA 23230-1186. In North Carolina, the mailing address is EnergyShare, P.O. Box 370, Roanoke Rapids, NC 27870-0370.
Customers can avoid hefty monthly fluctuations in their electric bills by signing up for budget billing. Customer participation in the Dominion budget billing plan has increased significantly over the past couple of years. Dominion also offers two additional programs designed to help friends and relatives help those who are having trouble paying an electric bill:
- Dominion's gift certificate program enables relatives and clergy, for example, to help customers pay all or part of their electric bill. Certificates are available in denominations of $10, $25, $50, $75, $100 and $250. They can be personalized to include the donor's name or sent anonymously. The donor does not have to be a Dominion customer to purchase a gift certificate. Information is available online at www.dom.com, keyword "Gift Certificate."
- Dominion's third-party notification program allows customers to designate a relative, friend, clergy member or social service agency to be notified in the event the customer is in jeopardy of having service disconnected for nonpayment. The third party has no obligation or responsibility for the bill but can assist with arrangements for continuing electric service without interruption. Information is available online at www.dom.com, keyword "Third Party."
A weatherization program also is available from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development Web site at www.dhcd.virginia.gov or by calling 2-1-1 to locate a local weatherization provider. A home energy audit is performed, and energy-efficient repairs are made at no expense to the resident. The program is available to renters as well as homeowners. A weatherized home typically uses about one-third less energy, saving a family about $350 a year on energy bills.
Dominion (NYSE: D) is one of the nation's largest producers and transporters of energy, with a portfolio of more than 27,500 megawatts of generation. Dominion operates the nation's largest natural gas storage systems and serves retail energy customers in 12 states. For more information about Dominion, visit the company's Web site at www.dom.com