The High Cost of Heating Big Buildings - News and Weather For The Quad Cities -

The High Cost of Heating Big Buildings

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Even with temperatures a little warmer on Tuesday than the day before, it is still very cold out there, and that's driving heat usage and heat bills up.

But if you think your bills are high, keep this in mind: It can cost tens of thousands of dollars a month to heat some of the bigger buildings in our area.

Heating bills vary from month to month and year to year based on a number of factors. The big ones are the price of natural gas, which is tied to supply and demand, and the amount of natural gas a customer uses, which is tied in large part to the weather.

This winter's weather so far has increased both of those things.

According to MidAmerican Energy's calculations, December 2013 was 37 percent colder than the same month in 2012.

It was about 14 percent colder than the average December.

Some people say they saw that in the size of the their latest heating bills.

But, if you think your bill is high, be glad you're not getting the bill to heat a much bigger space.

"I was afraid to look actually," laughed Gary Thrapp, owner of Beyond the Baseline in Davenport, when asked about his last heating bill.

Thrapp says heating his 40,000 square foot sports complex runs him between $2,000 and $3,500 a month in the winter.

That's just a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of heating some other QC facilities.

The RiverCenter in Davenport is about 120,000 square feet, and officials say, in the winter, heating all that space costs $12,000 to $15,000 a month.

At just over 220,000 square feet, the iWireless Center in Moline faces even bigger heating costs. The finance director says the winter heating bills there run about $25,000 to $30,000 a month, depending on the event load.

But square footage isn't everything. The 67,000 square foot Ambrose Dome on Brady Street was bought in 2011 after it went into foreclosure because the previous owners couldn't keep up with the heating costs.

At that time, the owner said those bills were as high as $35,000 a month in the winter.

Back at Beyond the Baseline, owner Gary Thrapp says by making upgrades like replacing the boiler system and adding insulation, he has been able to bring his bills down by about 30 percent from where they were when he bought the building eight years ago:

"I was very motivated to make some changes to the building when you see those first bills," he said.

And changes to our weather this month could make a big difference in everyone's bills.

A nice warm up would reduce usage and bring bills back down to normal, or even below normal, if we get lucky.

"But if the weather remains frigid like it is today, usage will stay high and we could have our customers have higher utility bills," said MidAmerican Energy spokesperson Tina Potthoff, "so we encourage our customers to budget and plan accordingly."

That's good advice whether you are heating your home or one of the biggest buildings in the area.

MidAmerican Energy officials say the company takes steps to help reduce the impact of natural gas price fluctuations for customers.

"Prior to November first of every year, we attempt to secure the price on approximately 50 percent of the natural gas that our customers are expected to consume in the heating season, and this can really assist in providing price stability and protecting our customers from those extreme price spikes," Potthoff explained.

MidAmerican Energy also offers a number of programs to help customers manage their utility bills, or even take steps to lower them.

Contact the customer service line or go to the company's website to learn more.

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