Friday, February 16, 2001

Cinergy pitches in to help pay bills




By Mike Boyer
The Cincinnati Enquirer


Sunday Special: The High Cost of Keeping Warm
        Cinergy Corp. is donating $625,000 to help customers in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana pay their energy bills this winter.

        The contribution includes the $500,000 the utility holding company previously pledged to the HeatShare program for customers of Cincinnati Gas & Electric and Lawrenceburg Gas and administered by the Salvation Army.

        CG&E last month pledged the $500,000 in response to Gov. Bob Taft's call in his State of the State message urging gas suppliers to create a $5 million fund to help customers pay their bills.

        Union Light Heat & Power, Cinergy's Northern Kentucky subsidiary, has made a $125,000 contribution to WinterCare, a similar program administered by the Northern Kentucky Community Action Agency.

        In December, Cinergy pledged $1 for every $1 contributed by customers and employees up to a maximum of $100,000 for HeatShare, and $25,000 for WinterCare. In the past, Cinergy contributed $1 for every $2 donated.

GOT QUESTIONS?
    Send us your questions about energy bills and conservation, and we'll ask the experts. Use the convenient e-mail form at Cincinnati.com. Or:
    Mail to Betty Barnett, Enquirer reader representative, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati, OH 45202.
    Call (513) 768-8299 between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
    Please include your name and phone number.
        Customers can still make tax-deductible contributions to both programs on their monthly bills. A Cinergy spokesman said the company decided to make lump-sum contributions to both programs because of this winter's sharply higher heating bills.

        Unlike other programs such as Ohio's Project THAW, which are tied to federal poverty guidelines, HeatShare and WinterCare assistance is at the administering agency's discretion.

        Through midday Thursday, the Salvation Army provided $29,160 to 127 families to pay heating bills. In Northern Kentucky, the Community Action Agencies have provided $5,800 to 52 families.

        Last winter, HeatShare distributed $149,753 to more than 700 families, and WinterCare provided $21,540 to 198 families.

        Here are answers to your energy questions:

        Question: Is there a way to get somebody from Cincinnati Gas & Electric to check my meter to see that it's functioning properly?

        My wife and I keep the thermostat at 60 while we're at work and at 62-63 at night. We have new replacement windows and only 900 square feet of heated space. Yet our December bill was $525 — twice that our our neighbors with identical houses.

Answer: CG&E says it gets a lot of calls about gas and electric meter accuracy during periods of higher bills and energy use. But fewer than 1 percent of the meters it checks are found to be running “fast,” meaning they are registering more consumption than actually occurs.

        More typically, the utility says, faulty meters slow down, meaning they don't register as much energy as is actually used. So replacing the meter could actually result in higher bills.

        If a customer calls CG&E with questions about the accuracy of a meter, customer service representatives will first compare the customer's use with previous periods adjusting for the weather. If that analysis shows something out of the ordinary, the company will then send out a technician to replace the meter.

        The utility typically tests between 25,000 and 30,000 electric and gas meters annually. Of that number, only 0.5 percent of gas meters are found to run fast. But 1.9 percent of gas meters tested are found to run slow.

        Electricity meter tests show about the same failure rate pattern, the utility said.

        Q: My Cape Cod house was built in 1954. The upstairs gets as much as 10 degrees warmer in summer and 10 degrees colder in winter than the downstairs, because there's no roof insulation. Can I insulate the roof in between the rafters?

        A: It is relatively simple to add attic insulation to an existing home to reduce energy loss. Tim Carter, syndicated building columnist, said the minimum recommended amount of attic insulation in Greater Cincinnati is R-38. (The R is a measure of the insulation's resistance to heat loss. The higher the R value, the greater the insulating value.)

        If you're considering installing or adding insulation in your attic, you have basically two options — blown-in fiberglass using a machine that spreads the material over the attic to the appropriate depth, or installing fiberglass insulating batting that comes in various lengths and R-values.

        Mr. Carter says blown insulation can be cheaper than installing fiberglass batting, which costs more to produce.

        In addition, he said, “You have to fit the bats perfectly and make sure they're fluffed up” to get the best insulating value.

        And if you do it yourself, lugging the batting into the attic and installing it is a dirty, laborious job.

        Even with professional installation, blown insulation is cheaper.

        Insulating Sales Co., in Forest Park, which does insulation for mainly new construction, said the cost of blown insulation installed is about 58 cents per square foot versus about 80 cents installed for batting.

       



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