Atmos says natural gas prices will ease customers this winter

Company offers ways to reduce energy use and lower bills

DALLAS—Atmos Energy Corporation said it expects that most of its utility customers in the 12 states it serves will pay lower natural gas bills this coming winter compared to last winter.

"Our residential customers could pay, on average, from $175 to $250 less for the natural gas they use during the next year, compared with their gas costs during the past year," said John Paris, president Atmos Energy Mid-Tex Division. "These savings result from wholesale natural gas prices falling to an 8-year low because of more production and more gas in storage, with experts predicting natural gas prices likely will remain low well into 2010."

Paris said that Atmos Energy does not make any profit on the natural gas it distributes to its utility customers. "When the costs we pay for natural gas go down, we pass on those fuel savings to our customers in their bills," he said.

"Customers tell us that paying lower natural gas bills this winter is welcome news, considering the current economy and the pressures they feel on their household budgets," Paris said. He said Atmos Energy is working closely with state energy officials and local energy assistance agencies to help its customers who are struggling because of the economy.

"The needs of some of our customers remain severe," he said. "For instance, we referred about 50 percent more customers (about 20,000 people) last winter to energy assistance agencies to seek help paying their gas bills. Many of these customers this year may be able to take advantage of the additional federal energy-assistance dollars now available by calling us at 1-888- 286-6700 to learn how to apply for energy assistance."

Paris said the company's own Sharing the Warmth program will donate more than $1 million to energy assistance agencies to aid low-income, elderly and disabled customers pay their natural gas bills.

"During the worst part of the recession last year," he said, "40,000 more Atmos Energy customers and employees signed up to contribute to our Sharing the Warmth program. We have many caring customers who are concerned about helping members of their community who need assistance."

Atmos Energy customers unable to pay their natural gas bills should call the company before becoming delinquent, Paris said.

"By calling us to discuss a payment plan, we can work with them to help prevent a service disconnection and can help them find energy assistance that might be available," he said.

Efficiency program

Along with energy assistance donations, Atmos Energy is providing about $4 million to fund energy efficiency programs in Texas, Colorado, Missouri, and Kentucky, Paris said. These programs provide funds to weatherize customers' homes to keep warmth in and, in some states, to replace old furnaces and water heaters to lower year-round energy bills. Information about the different programs is available on the company's Web site at www.\efficiency.

"We offer our customers many ways to help lower their bills, weatherize their homes and save energy." Paris said.

Budget billing

"One of the easiest ways for any customer to manage winter gas bills is to sign up for our budget billing plan," he said. Atmos Energy's budget billing plan levels out a customer's monthly bill payments over a rolling 12-month period.

"Our customer pays the same total amount he or she otherwise would. But, budget billing lowers the heating season's highest bills, which average from $125 to $175 a month for most customers, down to about $80 a month. That can ease the pressure on a household's budget."

Paris said Atmos Energ y's Web site at www.atmosenergy. com\energytips offers many easyto use online tools and energysavings tips to help homeowners conserve on energy use, evaluate choices for new appliances and understand the many factors that affect their monthly natural gas bills.

"Every fall, we also encourage our customers to call a licensed plumbing or heating contractor for a winter tuneup of their natural gas furnace and appliances. It's a matter of safety, of course. But, servicing your appliances can also keep them operating effi- ciently to save costs," he said.

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