The Heating Horror:
Winter Debuts, Queens Heating
Bill Fears Increase
By DENISE DeJESUS
The weather dipped low this weekend and
thoughts of skyrocketing heating bills danced in the heads of homeowners around the
borough. Some enjoyed the warmth of their fireplaces, others fidgeted with the thermostat
looking for a reasonably priced temperature, and everywhere the complaints lingered that
it was going to be a long, expensive winter in Queens.
The addition of more power plants like this one in western
Queens is just one of the solutions being proposed to meet the increasing energy demands
According to the New York State
Energy Research and Development Authority, statewide home heating oil prices have risen an
average of 22 cents per gallon since September 1999. The Authority told the Tribune
that this years energy prices have climbed more than 80 percent, meaning the average
consumer will pay about $1,650 for oil heat if they paid $900 a year ago.
The Mayors Task Force on Home Heating
Oil added that last year, "the City paid more than $30 million dollars in excess
energy costs. This year, if oil prices remain at their current level, the City can be
expected to pay an additional $49 million."
So, will Queens residents
end up wearing two pairs of socks, sweatpants, a turtle neck, a sweater and a wool
nightcap to bed to save money this winter?
Not if their civic groups, advocacy
programs and elected officials can help it.
Most agencies, organizations, elected
officials, utilities and consumers are looking to the Public Service Commission (PSC) for
a solution, since the Commission helps to control the costs for gas and electric rates.
Heating oil trucks are becoming an increasingly common
Queens streets as the demand for energy increases.
Tribune Photos By Ira Cohen
Jackson Heights Assemblyman Ivan
Lafayette warned, "With winter fast approaching, these high energy prices could
disrupt that states economy and cause hardships for working families."
Lafayette has supported a number of
measures to address energy-related issues including: Competition Plus, which provides a
statutory framework for restructuring utilities in New York State; Energy 2000, to
redefine the role of the Power Authority in New York for the new ear of post-monopoly
competition; and a measure that would make available $350 million a year for ten years
through loans and grants for conservation and energy efficiency programs and new energy
technologies in the state.
Mayor Rudy Guiliani has created a Task
Force on Home Heating Oil in hopes of bringing down this winters home heating expense and
avoiding a potential energy crisis.
Guiliani explained, "Ten days after
the announcement of the oil reserve release, oil prices continue to hover near ten-year
highs, and supplies continue to be at their lowest levels in more than twenty years."
The Task Force will develop methods to
assist residents in reducing the cost of heating their homes this winter by assessing
testimony from government officials, oil market analysis, distributors, landlords and
Queens Councilman Sheldon Leffler is
currently looking for support from the Mayors task force to have the state
legislature temporarily eliminate their portion of the sales tax on Home Heating Oil and
grant the city the approval to eliminate the local portion of the sales tax.
According to Leffler, the mayor has
conferred with Council Speaker Peter Vallone about the temporary tax eliminations. In the
meantime, Queens Congressman Joseph Crowley is working in Washington to create a northeast
home heating oil reserve should the winter moths create shortages.
And in a recent step to reduce consumer
bills, Con Edison has reached an agreement with the PSC to extend the Electric
Restructuring Agreement established in 1997, when the nation was not faced with
soaring rates and a potential energy crisis.
That extension would include about $1.5
billion of rate benefits to consumers, saving residential customers approximately $50
annually, small commercial customers $100 annually and close to $1000 a year for large
The $170 million in reductions began on
October 1 and will be reduced by an additional $209 million on April 1, 2001 the
same date approximately 200 mega watts of additional capacity will become eligible for
business incentive rate discounts and $18.5 million in anticipated savings from Con
Eds proposed merger with North East Utilities.
Home heating oil, natural
gas, propane, gasoline and electricity prices have soared since the federal deregulation
of the energy market and are projected to increase this winter by at least 20 percent.
Under this new regulation, consumers were expected to save money by having the freedom to
choose which power generating company will produce their gas. But so far, local elected
officials say, these results remain to be seen.
The climbing rates are being attribute to
the slow process of getting new power generating companies on the market, creating
competition for the lowest price and the limited nationwide supplies.
plugged-in, New Yorkers are slowly depleting their electricity supply and
causing transmission systems to work overtime creating the need for electricity supplies
from outside the city, increasing the rates, or the construction of new New York power
plants, said New York Power Authority (NYPA) Spokesperson Michael Saltzman.
"The New York City economy is busting
in recent years," said Saltzman. "In almost every home there are personal
computers, fax machines, people plug in their cell phones and in the summer air
conditioners. All of these use electricity."
Crowley has requested
Attorney General Janet Reno open an investigation into alleged price gouging by the oil
Senator Frank Padavan charged in a letter
to the Public Service Commission (PSC) that "the PSC has been far too lenient with
Con Ed in recent years, allowing the utility to pass along rising costs."
The American Association of Retired People (AARP) and the
Public Utility Law Project filed a petition with the PSC requesting an investigation of
Con Eds summer price hike stating, "We must learn from this price spike and
prevent it from happening again with Con Edison and other utilities."
New Yorkers seeking more information about
home heating oil prices can contact the Department of Consumer Affairs at (212) 487-4444
or access the Departments website at nyc.gov/consumers. To obtain a copy of
DCAs Home Heating Oil Price Survey, consumers can visit the departments
website or send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to:
Department of Consumer Affairs
Attention: Home Heating oil Price Survey
42 Broadway, 8th Floor
New York, NY 10004
Save Money Here
Con Edison offered the following
information for Queens residents looking to beat the heat bills:
Plug it up. Check for drafts
by simply holding up a tissue around your doors or window frames. If it moves, youve
got a leak. Seal it with caulking or weather stripping.
Insulate. Insulating your
attic, crawl spaces and walls can keep things a lot more comfortable all year round.
Dont waste. Computers,
VCRs and CD players use energy even if youre not using them. If theyre in the
"on" mode, theyre on and using energy. Shutting them off is energy-smart
Summer Fun-tastic. Once
youve cooled your home with your air conditioner, turn it off and use fans to keep
Set your thermostat no higher
than 68 degrees. At bedtime or when you leave your home, turn the thermostat down to
60 degrees. Each degree can mean a three percent increase in energy costs.
Older people with medical
problems should talk to their family doctor. For their health, it may be important to
keep the thermostat above 68 degrees.
Install weather stripping on your
windows and outside doors. Buy a cover for your air conditioner or cover it with
Use natural light to heat your
home its free. Open drapes and blinds and let sunlight heat the room.
Keep the area around your
radiator clear. Move drapes or furniture so that heat can flow freely.
Dont use portable electric
space heaters. Just one can add $60 or more to your electricity bill every month.
Never use the oven to heat your
home. Its dangerous and can cause fires. It can also produce deadly carbon
monoxide gas fumes.
Replace incandescent light bulbs
with compact fluorescent bulbs. Youll get the same amount of light for about a
quarter of the cost.
Clean your light bulbs. Grime
from kitchen vapors, smoking and dust reduces brightness. That means you pay more in order
to get the light you need.
Use a timer on your lights when
youre away from home. A timer uses your lights efficiently, saving you money,
and helps with home security.
Enough is enough. Too much
light wastes energy. Make sure your lamps are arranged to light up your life. Turn off a
table lamp and see if you can live with the difference.
Use low-voltage bulbs (such as 25
or 40 watt) for halls and other places where bright light isnt needed. Save the
bright lights for reading and work areas.
Use the washing machine, dryer or
dishwasher only when you have a full load. Keep the lint filters clean in your washer
Use the right water heater for
your needs. Check them out. Too big is too expensive.
Dont waste water. Turn
the water off when youre shaving, brushing your teeth, or rinsing dishes. Repair
No peeking, please. Opening
the oven when youre cooking uses more energy. If your oven has a self-cleaning
feature, turn it on immediately after cooking while the oven is still hot.
Big deal. The refrigerator is
always on and is the biggest user of electricity year-round.
Cold air costs money. Decide
what you want before you open the door. Dont put the fridge in direct sunlight, next
to the stove, or near a heating vent.
Store foods in the refrigerator
so air can circulate freely. Stack items tightly in the freezer if theres
extra space, add bags of ice.
Keep the condenser coils clean.
Make sure the rubber gasket on the door provides a tight seal. Set the temperature to 40
degrees for the fridge, 0 degrees for the freezer.
Small change. If you are
shopping for a new refrigerator, consider a smaller unit.
When buying, shop smart.
Refrigerators with the Energy Star® label are energy-efficient and easy on the