Businesses struggle to cope with rising energy costs

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 8, 2001

Energy consumption never stops at Natchez Regional Medical Center, where heating and cooling systems must operate 365 days a year

So with utility costs rising, CEO Jack Houghton accepts the increased expense but looks for ways to control it, he said.

&uot;You can’t close a hospital, and virtually every floor is open,&uot; he said.

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The hospital budgets for an energy increase each year but &uot;clearly the colder weather this year is putting a greater demand on our heating and air conditioning systems,&uot; Houghton said.

To manage increased energy costs, hospital employees monitor thermostats, for one thing.

However, the hospital does not pass along any of these increases to patients, Houghton said.

The hospital only adjusts its rates once annually under usual conditions, Houghton said.

Mike Winter, Natchez Community Hospital controller, said his company also expects an increase in energy costs this winter.

The figures are not yet available, but Winter said the increase in the hospital’s natural gas bill is expected to be about 200 percent over last month’s bill.

Reductions in other areas, such as purchasing medical supplies in bulk, will be one way the hospital tries to offset the rising energy costs, Winter said.

Other businesses besides hospitals are feeling the brunt of energy increases and are finding ways to deal with the budget pinches.

&uot;It’s horrible,&uot; said Tammy Gossett, referring to costs of hotel utilities, especially during the winter.

&uot;During this time of year when we’re not busy, I block off a certain amount of rooms (to reduce the amount of heating),&uot; said the general manager of Days Inn in Natchez.

&uot;It’s always a challenge trying to heat and cool and supply water … to a hotel this size,&uot; Gossett said.

The hotel, like the hospitals, does not pass the extra costs to the customers.

&uot;That defeats the purpose, because people are going to go where they can get the best deal,&uot; she said.

Ron Brumfield, general manager of the Radisson Natchez Eola Hotel, said the hotel will receive its energy bill in a few days.

&uot;If you want to, call me back after the 16th – if I’m still standing,&uot; Brumfield joked on Friday.

Brumfield said the hotel began an energy conservation program five years ago.

Using energy-efficient light bulbs and taking other measures, the hotel has cut energy consumption by 20 percent in the past years, Brumfield said.

The hotel also projects an increase of six to eight percent in energy usage each year, Brumfield added.

Maryann Langnes, owner of McDonald’s of Natchez, is almost resigned to the problem and any recent increases.

&uot;Our (energy bills) are so high anyway I have not noticed,&uot; she said.

The Langnes family operates two McDonald’s restaurants in Natchez, both of which are totally electric.

&uot;We sit and cry about it lot,&uot; Langnes said jokingly Friday. &uot;(We) get the bills and think it’s a mistake.&uot;

The family also owns a McDonald’s in Winnsboro, La., that is powered by natural gas.

That location has been hit harder by the energy increases.

&uot;I did notice that his bill almost doubled,&uot; Langnes said of the Winnsboro restaurant.

Bill Salters, financial controller of Britton and Koontz First National Bank in Natchez, looks at the increase in energy costs as just part of doing business.

&uot;You just try to do be a little more conscious of electricity (usage),&uot; he said. &uot;That’s about all you do.&uot;