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By Michelle Koetters

RISMEDIA, June 28, 2008-(MCT)-The dollar amount on your electric bill is within your control. Practice energy efficient methods during the summer to save money, said Leigh Morris, spokesman for Ameren Corp.

“The more you use, the more it’s going to cost you,” Morris said. “You can save money without being uncomfortable.”

Typically, consumers’ electric bills rise as they use more electricity in the summer, most notably driven by the air conditioner’s hard work. With the official start of summer this weekend, some consumers might worry about what costs lie ahead, especially since average U.S. residential electricity prices are expected to increase by about 3.7% this year, according to the Energy Information Administration in Washington, D.C.

Rates for electricity through Central Illinois companies are unchanged or similar to last summer, though some local customers will pay more for delivery. The cost for natural gas in the Twin Cities has followed other energy and commodity costs on the upswing.

Bloomington’s Mid Central Community Action is taking phone calls from people looking for some relief from utility bills, said Cathy Grafton, director of community services.

“They’re going into summer with very high bills,” she said. “We’re definitely seeing people really feeling the pinch.”

While limited funds are available to help some people, managing the utility budget may best come down to conservation at home.

Electricity rates, weather and usage impact your electric bill, said Don Taylor, manager of marketing and member services for Corn Belt Energy Corp. in Bloomington.

Corn Belt’s electric rate is the same as last summer, so members would pay the same amount if the temperature and their energy consumption also remain the same, Taylor said. A hotter or cooler summer or usage changes will send that bill higher or lower, he said.

Summer temperatures are projected to fall back to near-normal levels following three years of warmer summers, which will limit the annual growth in electricity consumption to 0.6% in 2008, according to the energy department.

Forecasts like those could mean good news, but consumers should not let their guard down, Morris said.

“It doesn’t mean we should stop practicing good conservation,” he said.
Members can reduce their usage simply by paying attention to turning off power sources not in use, Taylor said.

“It sounds very basic, but we see that every day,” Taylor said. “I’m not going to leave my car idling in the parking lot.”

So turn off the computer when you’re not using it; turn off lights when you leave a room; turn the air conditioner up when you’re not home, Taylor said.

Morris offers more of the same tips for AmerenIP customers, who will pay slightly less for electricity this summer. A rate redesign for delivery charges means customers will pay more for delivery in the three higher-demand months of the year and less the rest of the year, though.

Morris recommends compact florescent lights and ceiling fans. Every degree you turn up the thermostat in the summer reduces your energy use by 2 to 3%, Morris said.

“You could save quite a bit,” he said.

Meanwhile, natural gas customers should not get hit hard with summer bills, but gas costs are on the rise, said Nicor Gas spokesman Bernard Anderson.

Customers will pay $1.23 per therm in June, up from 88 cents a year ago and 65 cents in December.

That increase will not be noticeable now since it comes after higher winter payments, but customers should prepare for next year’s cold season, Anderson said.

“You need to be aware that these prices are very volatile,” Anderson said.

Copyright © 2008, The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Ill.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.