As predicted, the cost of heating fuel was up for the winter season just ended, but MidAmerican Energy spokesman Allen Urliss says it wasn’t up as much as many bill-payers had anticipated. The average Mid-American customer bill was 6-percent higher than the year before, he says, while the U.S. Department of Energy had been projecting about a fifteen-percent increase — thus, it went up but less than expected. The reason bills were higher? Urliss says you can attribute that directly to the cost of natural gas, by far the most commonly-used heating fuel in Iowa. The price of the natural gas fluctuated, he explains, swinging between 10-percent lower and 80-percent higher than it had cost during the previous winter season — and that volatility meant it cost the energy company more to buy on the commodity market, making it more costly for their customers. Urliss says residential customers struggled to pay the higher bills, but also not as much as feared. He says the number of accounts 60 days or more “past-due” actually were one-point-six percent lower than a year ago at this time. Customers in Iowa’s LIHEAP heating-assistance program can’t be cut off from service between November and April…but come spring if they haven’t paid, a disconnect notice will be in the mail. The number of disconnect notices mail this spring was down this spring he says, noting the total in March 2003 was about 4500 notices, and that went down to around 4400 in spring of last year, and to 4300 this March. Urliss says power companies want a national energy policy that would help stabilize the wild fluctuations in price. “The roller-coaster price of natural gas, record high prices for crude oil and gasoline, and record home-heating prices all point to the fact that Congress needs to pass a new national energy policy that provides clear direction on how future energy needs will be met, or we will continue to experience record-setting energy prices.”