Maybe it will be a nice, warm winter ... right?

This week I did what no homeowner wants to do. I lit the pilot light to the furnace. Then the next morning, when the thermometer read 48 degrees inside the house, I did the second thing we hate to do. I turned up the thermostat.

As the burners kicked on, I envisioned dollar bills going up in flames. The way natural gas costs are going this winter, I probably should have been envisioning $10 bills.

Southwest Gas should post 10-foot-tall signs around town with the price of natural gas. Not that I blame the gas company, which is simply passing along its costs to us.

But when AM/PM, Shell and 7-Eleven post the price of a gallon of gasoline and we watch it rise, rise, rise, it's a constant reminder to do little things to conserve.

Same thing when fill up at the pump: Holy cow! What cost me $40 a couple of days ago just cost me $55. I gotta do something about that.

The home heating bill arrives once a month. I faint, wake up and stomp around the house lowering the thermostat, checking the windows for tight seals and putting on a sweater.

It also occurs to me about then that I probably should have changed the furnace filters, ordered a load of firewood and bought a piece of weatherstripping for that gap on the back door - all stuff I put off for the last four months.

How bad are prices going to be this winter?

Remember 2001 and 2001, when unscrupulous energy companies were gouging us at every turn and the suppliers couldn't raise rates fast enough to keep up?

Worse than that.

Back in January 2000, Nevada residential customers were paying an average of $6.07 per thousand cubic feet, according to the National Energy Information Center. Prices doubled by mid-2001. Now they're headed past the $13 range, and the only thing keeping them from soaring more is that Southwest Gas entered long-term contracts at significantly less than the current rate.

If you've got electric heat, Sierra Pacific rates aren't going to be any better. Most of the gas piped into Nevada goes to produce electricity. It's a Catch-22.

What can you do? Well, you already know what you need to do: Conserve.

Fortunately, October is Energy Awareness Month in Nevada. The state Office of Energy and the Nevada Housing Department are trying their best to help people pinch pennies. This week they sent out some reminders:

• Turn off lights and appliances when not in use. Utilize the "sleep" setting on your computer as it can use as much energy as a refrigerator.

• Set your thermostat to 68 degrees when home and set back to 60 degrees while sleeping or away from home for more than four hours.

• Open window coverings on the sunny side of your home to take advantage of the sun. Be sure to close the coverings as the sun goes down.

• Set your water heater to 120 degrees.

• Keep your freezer as full as possible. Use plastic bottles with water to fill in the empty spaces.

• Make sure food is cool and covered before it goes into the refrigerator.

• Run full loads in your washer and dryer.

• Vacuum your refrigerator coils and keep lights and lighting fixtures clean.

• Unplug your televisions/DVD player/VCR when you're on vacation.

I know this doesn't sound like it's going to add up to much, but energy costs are still largely a supply-and-demand market. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita disrupted the supply, so conservation has to lessen the demand in order for prices to stop climbing.

When you look at the bigger picture, high energy costs are a huge drain on the national economy. What I worry about is the mindset that comes with getting accustomed to big increases.

Take gasoline, for example. A year ago, we thought $2 a gallon was outlandish. We got miffed every time it went above $2, and there were reports in the newspaper and on television about the high price of gasoline.

Now, I drive by one of those gas-station signs and think, "Hey, $2.89 a gallon. That's not bad. I better fill up before it goes back to $3."

It's gotten to be the same way with the home-heating bill. I would wince when my December bill hit $120. Last winter, I was happy when I kept it at $200. This winter, I fear I'm going to be satisfied if it doesn't go over $300.

If there's such a thing as a Northern Nevada winter with plenty of snow and warm temperatures, we could sure use one.

n Barry Smith is editor of the Nevada Appeal. Contact him at or 881-1221.


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