Tuesday, February 20, 2001

More answers to your energy questions

Special Report: The High Cost of keeping Warm
        Here are answers to some questions you've been asking in response to our Jan. 28 report: The High Cost of Keeping Warm.

        Question: We're going to replace our gas water heater soon. But we're baffled: Exactly how do you compare one model with another?

        Answer: One thing to consider when shopping for a new water heater is the “first hour rating,” a measure of the unit's ability to meet demand for hot water plus the amount of incoming cold water it can heat in one hour. The higher the first hour rating the better.

        Enquirer energy columnist James Dulley suggests checking the unit's energy factor, or EF, indicating the unit's overall operating expense and efficiency. The best units have an energy factor above .6, he says.

Have questions about the high cost of keeping warm? Questions about ways to conserve energy and save money? Send them to us. We'll ask the experts and report the answers.
        Even with higher gas prices, Mr. Dulley says, gas water heaters are more economical than electric. For a rundown of the energy efficiency of water heaters and other appliances, check the Web site of the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, www.aceee.org.

        Q. Since there is supposed to be competition for gas suppliers now, how do I go about changing my supplier from Cinergy?

        A. There are no gas marketers making competitive offers in Cinergy Corp.'s service area. In the face of the sharp rise in wholesale gas prices over the past year, many alternative gas suppliers have been priced out of the market. Cinergy Resources, the former Cinergy Corp. deregulated subsidiary sold last year to an affiliate of Licking Rural Cooperative, was the largest gas marketer in Cinergy's service area with more than 17,000 customers. Cinergy dropped the provider from the program in January when Cinergy said the alternative failed to supply gas as required. Several lawsuits have been filed because of the dispute.

        Legislation has been introduced in the General Assembly to tighten supervision of gas marketers.

        Ohio Consumers' Counsel Robert Tongren says consumers need to thoroughly investigate marketers' offers before enrolling with a specific supplier. That's especially true of variable rate offers.

        The OCC says consumers should ask the following questions:

        • Does the supplier have a cap or maximum amount you could pay attached to its variable rate?

        • If there's no cap, do you have the ability to terminate the contract?

        • If there is a termination clause, what, if any, penalty fees apply if you withdraw?

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