CHICAGO — — The Citizens Utility Board is urging consumers to conserve energy and participate in efficiency programs offered by utilities after a recent federal report predicted that natural gas bills could jump by 13 percent this winter.
Illinois households use 44 percent more energy than the national average on heating and cooling because of the state's weather extremes, CUB spokesman Jim Chilsen said. But they could cut energy costs statewide by almost $37 million a year with more energy-efficient furnaces, light bulbs and appliances, and through simple steps such as turning down the thermostat and closing doors in empty rooms, he said.
From extreme heat to extreme cold, "we get it all here in Illinois and we pay a high price for that," Chilsen said, adding that the average Illinois household spends more than $2,000 a year on electricity and natural gas.
CUB is promoting energy efficiency programs developed by utilities, as mandated by state law.
They include rebates of up to $1,000 on energy-efficient products like boilers and furnaces, discounted home-energy audits and a program under which Ameren and ComEd will pick up and dispose of old refrigerators, then pay the homeowner $35 to $50.
He said CUB also will urge utilities to improve and expand their energy efficiency programs.
The Energy Department says natural gas users will see the biggest percentage increase after two years of historically low prices.
Nationwide, heating bills should rise to an average of $679, the department said in its outlook for heating costs for the season running from October through March. That is about 13 percent higher than a year ago but still 4 percent below the average for the previous five winters. Homes relying on electricity for heat, about 38 percent of the U.S., will likely pay about 2 percent more compared with last year.