As Nebraskans braced for a return to a typical Plains
winter, they also braced for the highest heating bills in recent
The double whammy of a return to seasonal winters and
record-setting natural gas prices -- with propane prices
not that far behind -- have combined to give Americans a
dose of unseasonable bill-paying angst.
For Nebraskans having difficulty coping with heating bills
there are several options:
Call Pete Davis in the Energy Office
at 402-471-2186 to find out if you could receive free home
weatherization and where to apply for that service. There
are income restrictions on who
can receive these services. Regional providers of weatherization
services are also listed on the Energy Office's web site at
Financial assistance may also be available from the state's
Department of Health and Human Services. Particulars on the
availability of this assistance can be found at the agency's
web site: Income restrictions DHHS Financial
Assistance Local offices DHHS Local Offices
Another resource for help on how to lower your utility bills is the newly
established U.S. Department of Energy Home Heating Help Hotline, which is
available by pressing button one when calling 1-800-Dial-DOE, the Department of
Energy's Consumer Resource Gateway. The Hotline will be operational until
People calling this special Hotline will have their phone calls answered by
live operators from 8:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. Central Standard Time. Other
than these business hours or in the event of overflow calls, phones will be
answered by a recording 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Those who use this hotline will get a live operator who will give them:
A place to share their stories about how the heating
price hikes have impacted their household or business; and
The opportunity to receive more detailed information by mail
to help consumers, including energy tips for home heating and a
package of three of the latest brochures from the Energy Information
Administration on heating your home with propane, natural gas or
The same information is also available at EIA Information
in a special "related links" page. One of the links is "How to
Lower Your Heating Bill."
Among the options listed at the "related links" site are:
Energy and price outlooks for the near-term;
Assistance options; and
Consumer information on propane and natural gas issues.
It's Not Too Late
On the page, "How to Lower Your Heating Bill," visitors
will find both "Cheap and Easy Fixes" that save up to 25 percent of the energy
costs and "Longer Term Solutions" that can save up to 50 percent of the
Among the "Cheap and Easy" options are:
Seal out the cold air;
Tune up the heating system;
Improve thermostat performance; and
Practice window management.
Among the "Longer Term Solutions" are:
Replace old furnace and water heater;
Upgrade windows; and
Unfortunately, some of the suggestions for cutting energy
bills may not be able to tackled until warmer weather
returns to the Plains.
The average wellhead price for gas was as low as $0.16
per therm, or
$1.69 per thousand cubic feet, in September 1998. In September 2000
prices soared to $0.39 per therm or almost $4.00 per thousand cubic
feet. This increase reflects a competitive market reaction as supply
has lagged in its response to a recent surge in demand.
The latest Energy Information Administration assessment, issued
in early December, projected that Americans heating with natural
gas would spend at least $300 more this year on heating costs
compared to last year. At the same time, natural gas prices on
the commodities market were reaching $10 per thousand cubic feet,
four times the cost of gas last year.
Although gas exploration and development have increased
significantly in the past year, the response to the increased
drilling for gas has yet to be fully reflected in sufficient
additional supplies to affect prices. This is due to the
6 - 18 month lag time between the time of initial drilling and
when additional production is brought to the market.
Natural gas demand in 2000 has increased because of a number of
factors, including the start of operations at new gas-fired
electric-power generators and new home construction, which
tends heavily toward the use of natural gas for heating and
cooking. Natural gas prices are expected to continue at levels
much higher than last year through this winter, before coming
back down after the heating season.
According to a recent analysis by the Energy
Information Administration based on current energy costs,
households that lower their thermostats only 1 degree during
the heating season could easily save $15-$40 or more.
The agency based its estimate on recent price data. Actual
savings for individual households depend on the type of main
heating fuel and the amount of fuel used, which, in turn,
depend on the home size, amount of insulation, area of the
country and many other variables.
Propane prices are subject to a number of
influences, some are common to all petroleum products and
others are unique to propane.
Because propane is portable,
it can serve many different markets, from fueling barbecue
grills to producing petrochemicals. The price of propane
in these markets is influenced by many factors, including
the prices of competing fuels in each market; the distance
propane has to travel to reach a customer; and the volumes
used by a customer. More specifically, propane prices are
Crude Oil and Natural Gas Prices - Although
propane is produced
from both crude oil refining and natural gas processing, its price
is influenced mainly by the cost of crude oil. This is because
propane competes mostly with crude oil-based fuels.
Supply/Demand Balance - Propane supply
and demand is subject to changes in domestic production,
weather and inventory levels, among other factors. While
propane production is not seasonal, residential demand is
highly seasonal. This imbalance causes inventories to be
built up during the summer months when consumption is
low and for inventories to be drawn down during the winter
months when consumption is much higher. When inventories
of propane at the start of the winter heating season are
low, chances increase that higher propane prices may occur
during the winter season. Colder-than-normal weather can
put extra pressure on propane prices during the high demand
winter season because there are no readily available sources
of increased supply except for imports. And imports may
take several weeks to arrive, during which time
larger-than-normal withdrawals from inventories may occur,
sending prices upward. Cold weather early in the heating
season can cause higher prices sooner rather than later,
since early inventory withdrawals affect supply availability
for the rest of the winter.
Proximity of Supply - Due to transportation
costs, customers farthest from the major supply sources,
which are the Gulf Coast and the Midwest, will generally
pay higher prices for propane.
Markets Served - Propane demand comes from
several different markets that exhibit distinct patterns in
response to the seasons and other influences. Residential
demand, for instance, depends on the weather, so prices tend
to rise in the winter. The petrochemical sector is more
flexible in its need for propane and tends to buy it during
the spring and summer, when prices decline. If producers
of petrochemicals should have to depart from this pattern
for some reason, the coinciding demand could raise prices.
And when prices rise unexpectedly, as they do sometimes in
the winter, petrochemical producers pull back, helping to
ease prices. Prices could also be driven up if agricultural
sector demand for propane to dry crops remains high late into
the fall, when residential demand begins to rise.
For a copy of Propane Prices, What Consumers Should
Know, from which this information was excerpted, contact
Jerry Loos in the Energy Office.
With America's oil production on the
decline, few in Nebraska may know that the state plays
a role in stemming the tide of oil imports.
Even fewer know that most of the oil pumped in Nebraska comes from
wells that produce about three barrels of oil a day.
According to the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission's latest
study, Nebraska has 1,498 stripper oil wells that produce about
3.34 barrels a day. In 1999, an estimated 1.828 million barrels
of oil came from these low-volume wells. Another 66 wells were
plugged or abandoned last year.
Stripper wells are classified as low-volume producers since
generally fewer than 10 barrels of oil is pumped each day from
the well. More than one quarter of the nation's oil production
-- excluding Alaska and coastal areas -- comes from the 423,000
An estimated 2.681 million barrels of oil were produced
in Nebraska in 1999. This production is valued at $46.14
million when based on an average oil price of $17.21 a barrel.
Nebraska ranked 19th in the nation in oil production, 15th
in stripper well production in 1999 and 5th in the average
daily production per stripper well.
Nearly two-thirds of the stripper wells in the state use
secondary recovery techniques. Pressure in an underground
formation pushes oil upward, allowing it to be extracted.
In older wells and mature fields, this pressure has diminished
over time, decreasing the flow of oil. The recovery techniques
used typically include injection of water or gas into the
formation, which allows the oil to flow more easily.
Long, Slow Decline
Since reaching a peak in oil production of 24.8 million
barrels in 1962, Nebraska's oil output has generally
declined. In 1999, only 2.66 million barrels of oil
were produced. This is a decline of 16 percent from the
3.18 million barrels produced the year before.
For more information on stripper wells and their part
in the nation's energy production picture, visit the
Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission's web site.
The summary of the latest report on stripper wells
can be found at Interstate Oil and Gas
Water heating is the third largest energy
expense in your home. It typically accounts for 14 percent
of the utility bill.
There are four ways to cut your water heating bills: use
less hot water, turn down the thermostat on your water heater,
insulate your water heater or buy a new, more efficient water heater.
A family of four, each showering for five minutes a day, uses
700 gallons of water a week. This is enough for a three-year
supply of drinking water for one person. You can cut that
amount in half simply by using low-flow, non-aerating showerheads
Typical Hot Water Consumption by Place of Use
Here are several other ways to reduce hot water use:
Repair leaky faucets promptly. A leaky faucet
wastes gallons of water in a short period.
Insulate your electric hot water storage tank and
pipes, but be careful not to cover the thermostat.
Insulate your gas or oil hot water storage tank and
pipes, but be careful not to cover the water heater's
top, bottom, thermostat or burner compartment. When in
doubt, get professional help.
Buy a new energy efficient water heater. While
it may cost more initially than a standard water
heater, the energy savings will continue during
the lifetime of the appliance.
Although most water heaters last 10 - 15 years, it's
best to start shopping for a new one if yours is more
than seven years old. Doing some research before your
water heater fails will enable you to select one that
most appropriately meets your needs.
Lower the thermostat on your water heater. Water
heaters sometimes come from the factory with high
temperature settings, but a setting of 115 degrees
provides comfortable hot water for most uses.
Drain a quart of water from your water tank every
three months to remove sediment that impedes heat
transfer and lowers the efficiency of your heater.
The type of water tank you have determines the steps
to take, so follow the manufacturer's advice.
Take more showers than baths. Bathing uses the most
hot water in the average household. You use 15-25 gallons
of hot water for a bath, but less than 10 gallons during
a five-minute shower.
Look for the Federal Trade Commission's
label. Presently, water heaters are not identified with
Energy StarTM ratings.
The Nebraska Energy Quarterly
asked about 6% Dollar and Energy Saving Loans.
Loan forms may be obtained from
participating lenders or the Energy Office.
Loans as of September 30, 2000: 16,906 for $125.8 million
Questions and Answers...
5% Dollar and Energy Saving Loans
The Energy Office recently revised its
new ductwork financed with a 5 percent loan be "installed
with gaskets or mastic in accordance with manufacturer's
installation instructions. Duct tape is not permitted."
Why was this requirement added and what are the associated
energy savings benefits?
The requirement was added because the 2000 International
Energy Conservation Code states "Low-pressure duct systems:
All longitudinal and transverse joints, seams and connections
of low-pressure supply and return ducts shall be securely
fastened and sealed with welds, gaskets, mastic (adhesives),
mastic-plus-embedded-fabric systems or tapes installed in
accordance with the manufacturer's installation instructions."
The Code also stipulates "Duct tape is not permitted as a sealant
on any ducts."
The Energy Office's 5 percent loans are used to promote
high efficiency, energy saving products and technologies.
To achieve those ideals, standards are constantly updated
to ensure code requirements are met or exceeded.
Ducts are an integral part of a home's comfort delivery
system, carrying cool air in the summer and heated air in
the winter. When the system works well, the home and its
occupants are kept comfortable. Building inspectors in
several states, including Nebraska, have routinely found
instances where sections of ducts were never installed, connected
or had broken or fallen away completely leaving gaps in the
system. A properly assembled system requires the ductwork to
be well connected, attached and sealed. National tests indicate
a 10-15 percent energy savings for properly sealed ductwork in
retrofit work and during new construction.
Are below market rate mortgages still
available for the
construction of new, single family homes built
Mortgage loans are available at one percent below Freddie
Mac rates for new homes in rural Nebraska that are built
30 percent above the requirements of the 1995 Model Energy
Code and are completed before June 30, 2001.
Rural counties are defined as all counties in Nebraska
except Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy, Washington and Cass.
Construction loans are available through all participating
lenders. Permanent mortgages can be arranged through Security
Federal in Lincoln.
A Dollar and Energy Saving Loan is being
used to purchase
and install a new exterior door and storm door. Since the
doors are nonstandard in size, they must be special ordered.
The dealer is requiring a down-payment of half the cost of
the doors at the time the order is placed. Will loan
eligibility be lost if this down-payment is made BEFORE
the loan is approved?
If the down-payment is refundable, loan eligibility would not lost.
With these loans, borrowers may not contractually obligate themselves
to have the improvement made before a loan is approved.
In this situation, since the doors must be custom-made
it is probable the down-payment would not be refundable.
In this case, the bid for the new custom-made doors would
have to indicate any down-payment received would have be refundable,
if the project was not approved for financing.
A number of atypical projects have been
financed with Dollar
and Energy Savings Loans such as a corn-fueled stove, several
types of wood stoves and repairs to wind generators. How do
you know if an improvement can be financed with a Dollar and
Energy Saving Loan?
For less common types of improvements, an energy analysis is
needed to demonstrate dollars saved from the improvement will
more than offset the cost of the improvement. Here's how to find
out if the improvement can be financed with a loan:
First, get a bid for the energy improvement project you
want to make.
Next, get loan forms #32 and #33. (These forms are
available from the Energy Office, a participating lender or
from the agency's web site:
Gather your energy bills from last year and calculate the
amount of energy used by the equipment to be replaced.
Estimate your energy bills for that same task(s), if you
were to complete the planned energy improvement, using last
year's energy prices.
Subtract the amount of energy dollars you will spend next
year if you make the improvements from the amount of energy
dollars you spent last year. The difference is what you will
Now divide your energy project's total cost by the amount
of energy dollars you will save next year. This is the simple
payback or number of years it will take to pay back the loan.
This number will need to be less than or equal to the number
of years for the following types of projects:
15.0 years for home and building improvements
5.0 years for replacement of household appliances
10.0 years for all other projects, including irrigation equipment.
What information will be needed when applying
for a Dollar and Energy Saving Loan using an energy audit?
Copies of actual energy bills for fuel and electricity
for the previous 12 months.
Copy of bid(s) for the planned energy improvements,
which include installation costs.
Completed Form 32 -- Energy Saving Improvement and
Analysis -- and Form 33 -- Energy Billing History
Technical data supporting the proposed energy savings
needed for review of the project. Technical data can
include your calculations, any product bids and specifications,
disposition of old equipment and other similar items.
Note: Irrigation projects usually require additional
How do you know if a replacement window or door can be
financed with a Dollar and Energy Saving Loan?
Replacement windows and doors must qualify in one of two ways:
either by the window/door tested total "R" or "U" value ratings
or by construction features.
For windows and patio doors, the "R" value must be equal
or greater than 2.86 or the "U" value must be less than or
equal to 0.35. For doors, the "R" value must be equal or
greater than 4.0 or the "U" value must be less than or equal
The "R" or "U" value for the new window or door must be a
tested value, not computed or simulated. The value must be
verified by providing a copy of the test report or a copy
of a National Fenestration Rating Council tag (available
from the dealer or manufacturer). The stated "R" or "U"
value is for the total window or door unit as opposed to
"center of glass" values.
Btus per hour
Square feet of Area
"R" and "U" values tell how much heat will flow through
a structure, such as a window. The units of the "U" value
are British thermal units (Btus) per hour per square feet
per degrees fahrenheit or in other words, how much heat in
British thermal units will pass through one square foot of
a structure, in one hour, for each degree of temperature
difference measured from the inside to the outside of the
For instance, a one square foot window with Council sticker
"U" value of 0.25 with the temperature outside of 63 and the
inside temperature of 73 will lose 0.25 times the temperature
difference of 10 degrees (73-63) or 2.5 British thermal units
The "R" value is simply the inverse of the "U" value or 1
divided by "U." So if you have a "U" value of 0.25, the "R"
value will be 1 divided by 0.25 or R-4.0. "R" value units
then are 1 hour, times square feet of area, times Degrees
Fahrenheit divided by Btu.
Square feet of Area
Btus per hour
(or X Hours per Btu)
The bid for the replacement windows or doors and Form 2 must
also indicate a brand and model number, which coincide with
the brand and model number on the test report or Council's tag.
For instance, a bid or Form 2 for replacing double-hung windows
cannot be verified with a test or NFRC tag for an entirely different
window, such as a casement. Also a test report or Council tag for a
solid door cannot be used to verify a door which has a half lite or
If a test report or Council tag are not available for a particular
brand or model, the window or door may qualify based on construction
features. In this event, the bid or Form 2 must detail the construction
features or indicate a brand and model number which coincide with
brand and model numbers on supporting company literature which shows
the construction features.
Construction feature requirements for windows include:
A minimum of two panes of glass.
At least one of the two panes of glass must have a low-e coating.
The window must be gas-filled with Argon, Krypton, Carbon
Dioxide, SF6 or some combination of these.
The frame must be made of wood, vinyl or aluminum. If the
frame is made of aluminum, it must be thermally broken.
Construction feature requirements for doors include:
Construction feature requirements for doors include:
The core material in the door must have an insulating
value of at least R-8.0.
Any lite in the door must be double-glazed and cover
no more than 10 percent of the door surface area.
According to a leading monitor of sales,
energy-efficient appliance sales increased 31 percent in the
first nine months of 2000 over the same period last year.
Sales of the energy-miserly dishwashers, air conditioners
and washing machines posted gains. The sale of refrigerators
To earn the Energy StarTM label, appliances must
use energy more efficiently than the average appliance. Those
bearing the Energy StarTM label rank in the top
echelon of energy efficiency in the product category, using
energy between 13 and 40 percent more efficiently.
The purchase of most Energy StarTM refrigerators,
dishwashers, freezers and clothes washers can be financed
with a low-interest Dollar and Energy Saving Loan.
Retail sales of Energy StarTM dishwashers and
air conditioners soared by 66 percent compared to 1999.
Washing machine sales increased 11 percent over the same
Typically, Energy StarTM appliances command
premium prices. However, in spite of the higher prices,
the study indicates consumers are shopping for energy
Prices of Non-Energy Star vs. Energy StarTM
In accordance with the American
Disabilities Act, the state will provide
reasonable accommodation to persons with disabilities.
If you need reasonable accommodation to participate
in any program or activity listed in this
publication, please contact the Energy Office
at 402-471-2186 to coordinate arrangements.
Upon request, this publication may be available
in alternative formats.
This material was prepared with the support of
the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Grant No.
DE-FG47-92CE60410. However, any opinions, findings,
conclusions, or recommendations expressed herein
are those of the author and do not necessarily
reflect the views of DOE.