by Senators Larry Craig and Mike Crapo
In our frequent visits with Idahoans, itâ??s no surprise that energy prices are on everyoneâ??s mind. Natural gas and gasoline prices were at or near record highs before Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast, a region where much of the United Statesâ?? oil production and refining facilities are located. Energy supplies were already tight, and the forced shutdown of many offshore platforms and refineries only made the problem worse. In the wake of these two storms, Congress has already requested an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission to determine whether energy producers and suppliers have engaged in price-gouging. We will not tolerate profiteering if it is taking place. While President Bush and the Department of Energy (DOE) are considering the release of fuel stockpiles to alleviate some of the strain, it could still be several months before U.S. oil production returns to full capacity. In the meantime, if you havenâ??t already, we urge you to consider a few simple measures you can take to reduce your energy consumption, which could also help lower your heating and gasoline bills. If you take a comprehensive look at your home and your driving habits, there may be numerous opportunities to save energy, and as a result, money too. Some suggestions are fairly obvious, such as turning off extra lights and setting the thermostat two or three degrees lower than you might normally do during the coming winter months. Other measures are a little less obvious, but no less simple. You might clean or replace air filters for the furnace to improve air flow and efficiency. If you have a fireplace that isnâ??t being used, close the damper and flue to keep warm air from escaping up your chimney. Switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs in your light fixtures, and open drapes or blinds on south-facing windows to let the sunshine warm the house during the day. One effective way to lower your heating bills is to check your home for drafts and air leaks and stop them. Door frames, windows, worn door and window seals, cracks in walls, spots where pipes pass through exterior walls â?? all can siphon warm air out of your home in the winter. According to Department of Energy experts, you can save 10 percent or more on your energy bill by reducing the air leaks in your home. You may also want to consider insulating your water heater and hot-water pipes, or installing a programmable thermostat for your furnace. With a programmable thermostat, you can set your furnace to shut off while you and your family are out of the house or asleep, thereby cutting down on unnecessary heating. Of course, adjusting your driving habits can save you money too â?? at the gas pump. As the weather cools down, keep in mind that an idling car gets zero miles per gallon. Only 30 seconds of idling is necessary to warm up a carâ??s engine. Whenever possible, try to combine errands to reduce the total mileage you drive. It takes less gas to make one trip from your house to the grocery store, post office and to pick up the kids than making three separate trips from home. Check your carâ??s air filter to make sure it is clean, and check the tire pressure. Low tires make for poor gas mileage. Keep up with oil changes and maintenance as much as possible. A well-tuned car is a more efficient car. And of course, consider carpooling to work or school if itâ??s feasible. There are many more ways to cut energy costs than what weâ??ve been able to mention. One helpful website with plenty of ideas is www.energysavers.gov. The Bonneville Power Administrationâ??s (BPA) website, www.bpa.gov, also has energy-saving tips and information on getting loans to weatherize your home. Utility companies like Idaho Power, PacifiCorp and Avista Utilities all have energy-saving tips on their websites, and some have assistance programs for low-income families and the elderly. To lower your heating bills and save money around the house, pick up the phone or visit any of these websites and capture those escaping dollars.