August 28, 2008

A Series of Town Hall Meetings Inform Residents of Financial Assistance Options

By Michelle Dynes

By Michelle Dynes

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CHEYENNE - The Public Service Commission wants Wyoming residents to think about winter heating bills.

The regulatory agency hosted a town hall meeting Wednesday at the Herschler Building to hear consumer concerns and help residents find the resources to cover high energy bills. The public meeting is part of a series of more than 30 heating conferences that will be held throughout the state until Sept. 22.

"In the summertime you don't really think about your gas bill," said Steve Oxley, deputy chairman of the PSC.

Energy costs may be lower during the warmer months but winter is around the corner. He said most Wyoming homeowners use natural gas for heat and prices are going to rise. The threat of Hurricane Gustav has already raised wholesale energy prices. Only a handful of communities in the Rocky Mountain region escaped the double digit gains.

"We don't see prices coming down to the levels we've seen in the past," Oxley added. "We expect winter gas bills to be substantially higher than they were last year."

Utility companies cannot make a profit on natural gas itself and must pass on a dollar-for-dollar cost of the product. But those in the energy business are not eager for higher prices either, said Mark Stege, general manager of Cheyenne Light Fuel and Power.

"We want the same thing our customers want," he added. "We want assurance of supply and the lowest cost possible."

He said it doesn't benefit any company to have customers who cannot afford to pay.

But there are places to find assistance.

- Cheyenne Light Fuel and Power offers rebates for customers who install energy-efficient furnaces, electric heat pumps and programmable thermostats.

- The Wyoming Community Development Authority offers the Wyoming Energy Savers program with low-interest loans for homeowners who need a new furnace, insulation, weather stripping or storm windows.

- The Department of Family Services has a low-income energy assistance program and a weatherization assistance program.

- People who find themselves with no other option can turn to Energy Share of Wyoming through the Salvation Army. The program is designed to help people who have been denied other forms of assistance.

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