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Churches can conserve energy costs this wintercomment (0)

January 5, 2005

By Sondra Washington

After three major hurricanes, steadily dropping temperatures and rising fuel costs, Alabama churches and residents should expect higher energy bills this winter, gas and electricity officials say.
“We are telling our customers to expect to pay 36.7 percent more on their annual bill than they did last year,” said Susan Delenne, manager of communications for Alagasco. “That increase is due to a very tight supply and demand situation that was further complicated by back-to-back hurricanes in the Gulf.”
She added, “This is not something unique to Alabama, Birmingham or Alagasco. It is a national problem.”
Alabama Power spokesman Michael Sznajderman made similar predictions for upcoming electricity prices. “Churches are considered commercial accounts and starting in January there will be an additional $6.15 added per month as part of the storm cost recovery plan and that is expected to drop to $1.86 per month after two years.”
He added that fuel costs will also rise – “about 7.5 percent for two years” – depending on how much fuel is used.
According to Sznajderman, these changes, which were recently approved by the Alabama Public Service Commission, will help cover rising coal and natural gas costs which are passed on directly to customers. It will also replenish the company’s reserve fund which fell to negative $69 million after the recent storm season. The company hopes to raise the account to $75 million over the next four to five years to prepare for any upcoming emergencies.
“We need to be prepared for the next big storm that will hit us and that could happen any time,” said Sznajderman. “It could be an ice storm in the next few weeks, tornadoes in the spring or hurricanes next year. How the increase will affect you will depend on your usage because it’s based on a per kilowatt hour basis.”
To help churches deal with rising energy costs this winter, experts offer several tips.
As the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions’ newest state missionary, Otis Corbitt works in the office of associational missions and church planting and helps churches with building services. He advises churches not to panic because it is uncertain how individual bills will be affected by these increases.
“We always should be good stewards of God's money… and every bit of savings will help,” said Corbitt who encourages churches to make sure their buildings are in good condition. “If we have maintained our buildings and mechanical systems, they are going to be more efficient and if they are more efficient they will cost less to run.”
He added, “Utility companies can come out and do an energy audit on churches to look and see where they may have air leaking in the building so that it costs more money to heat and cool. A church can then make those corrections and that will make it more efficient and save money.”
Corbitt said that churches can also change changing church practices may help save money. “A church might change where it meets for Sunday night service and Wednesday service to a smaller place inside the building that costs less to heat,” he said.
Churches can also be more energy efficient by adding timed thermostats and replacing incandescent light bulbs with florescent light bulbs, he noted.
Governor Bob Riley advises Alabamians to “take advantage of budget billing plans offered by many utilities to even out payments for 12 months by reducing the amount you pay during periods of high energy consumption, like winter, and increasing the amount you pay during periods of low consumption.”
According to Sznajderman, many churches already take advantage of these rate adjustment plans which can be applied for easily. He and Delenne both agree that customers who foresee problems paying energy bills should contact utility companies as soon as possible.
Alabama Power, Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs and Alagasco offer the following energy-saving tips for churches and residents:
• Set your thermostat at 68 degrees or lower during the day, and even cooler at night. Wear layered clothes such as sweaters inside the house to be more comfortable.
• Close off rooms that are not in use and don’t heat them if you can.
• Remove obstructions blocking heating outlets and return air registers.
• Clean vents regularly with a vacuum or a broom.
• Check insulation levels of attics and floors.
• Caulk and weatherstrip windows and doors to stop air leaks.
• Wrap water heaters in insulating blankets to retain heat. 
• Close the flue when the fireplace is not in use.
• Use ceiling fans switched to reverse to circulate warmer air trapped near the ceiling or small fans to distribute air in a room.
• Examine, clean or replace air filters once a month.
• Open window shades or blinds during the day in rooms that receive direct sunlight.
• Use insulating drapes in rooms that don't get much sun.
• Air-dry dishes instead of using your dishwasher's drying cycle.
• Wash only full loads of dishes and clothes.
• Turn off kitchen and bathroom ventilation fans as soon as they have done their job.
• Cover windows with insulating shades or plastic sheeting to reduce heat transfer. 
• Install storm windows over single-pane windows.
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