ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — With winter heating bills biting at consumers’ wallets, the New Mexico Gas Co. is reaching out to customers to take advantage of programs to lower their monthly expenses.
The company offers substantial rebates for homeowners who pad their attics and roofs with additional insulation, and it provides partial reimbursement to customers who install energy-efficient furnaces and water heaters.
It also helps qualifying low-income households to obtain comprehensive weatherization assistance through the Mortgage Finance Authority. And it provides low-flow shower heads and faucet aerators free of charge to customers who request them.
The company began offering such assistance in 2009, paid for by a rate rider that amounts to about 1 percent of the average residential monthly bill. As of last March, about 16,000 customers had benefitted, said company spokeswoman Teala Kail.
But with 500,000 customers in New Mexico, a lot more households could take advantage of the programs.
“We’ve made some good strides to build a very robust program in the last five years,” Kail said. “There’s a wide range of measures families can take to winterize their homes to obtain savings. That includes investments that qualify for rebates, but families can also take many inexpensive steps on their own to cut heating costs.”
To better orient customers about rebates and inexpensive energy-saving tips, the company has beefed up its website to make it more user friendly. A newly constructed energy-efficiency section – accessible through the company website at nmgco.com – will launch later this month in English and Spanish.
“It will be totally devoted to our residential energy-efficiency offerings,” said Dru Jones, the company’s energy-efficiency senior program developer. “It includes a better layout to make it easier to find information, plus links to other sites to help people access things like federal tax credits for energy-efficiency investments. It will also be accessible via a mobile app for smartphones and other devices.”
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, consumers can save up to 30 percent on monthly household-heating expenses by implementing energy-efficiency measures.
“The range in savings can be pretty wide, from 5 percent to 30 percent, depending on the size of the house, the size of the family, where the home is located and so forth,” Kail said.
Most older homes particularly can benefit from adding insulation to attics and roofs, said Steve Casey, New Mexico Gas’ energy-efficiency program manager.
“The first thing I tell homeowners is to look at calking and weather stripping because those are low-cost/no-cost measures they can take immediately,” Casey said. “Then look at insulation investments to make the home as energy efficient as possible before investing in things like energy-efficient furnaces or water heaters. That’s important, because without proper insulation, you can get a modern furnace and have the heat escape right out through the roof.”
The company offers a 25 percent rebate on the price on installing insulation, up to $500. It also offers rebates for installing “Energy Star” furnaces and water heaters on a sliding scale up to $375, depending on the level of efficiency of the particular appliance selected by homeowners.
The appliance rebates have proved so popular that in December the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission approved a 45 percent increase in the company’s annual spending on reimbursements through next year.
Consumers should note, however, that the water-heater rebates only apply to “tankless” heaters, which are much more energy efficient than traditional storage heaters.
Tankless systems heat water only when a faucet or shower is turned on. That substantially cuts energy costs compared to storage-based systems, which continuously heat water in a tank throughout the day.
The utility also gives out low-flow shower heads and faucet aerators to help customers cut down on water heating and use. It’s part of the company’s overall strategy of tailoring energy-efficiency programs to specifically save on space- and water-heating costs.
“About 95 percent of customers’ bills go to space and water heating, so our programs are geared specifically to that,” Casey said. “These are programs and measures that are proven to save money.”