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As temperatures start to drop Americans around the country are pulling out their flannel sheets, putting the storm windows back on, and switching their air conditioning units with heaters. These transformations have an impact on the way our nation uses our energy resources, particularly heating fuels.

Since 1994, the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO) have held an annual Winter Fuels Outlook Conference to provide the energy community with information on global and domestic oil supply trends and forecasts for heating fuels prices. I had the honor of opening the 2010 conference here in Washington, DC recently by stating how this event plays an important role in providing awareness on reliability issues impacting our nation’s energy supplies. This year’s conference had added significance for those of us living on the East Coast after last year’s winter storms triggered some widespread power outages and disruptions.

I was also anxious to hear the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Short-Term Energy Outlook for the upcoming winter.  This year EIA is predicting modest increases in winter heating bills for many natural gas, propane and heating oil customers.

Harsh weather – like the powerful blizzards we experienced last year – causes disruptions in the nation’s energy supplies and challenges the resiliency of our energy sector. An important part of my job as Assistant Secretary for the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability (OE), and the overall goal of OE’s energy assurance program, is to work toward a more uniform, comprehensive energy assurance and resilience approach that benefits localities, states, and the nation overall by improving our ability to plan for and respond to these challenges.

Using Recovery Act dollars, the Department of Energy in 2009 awarded grants to 48 states, the District of Columbia, two territories, and 43 cities to develop new energy assurance plans. This three-year effort is a major element of the Department’s responsibility to lead and develop ways to strengthen how energy is delivered to consumers.

In the upcoming year, DOE will be hosting four regional energy assurance exercises which will provide a forum for testing the new or updated energy assurance plans and will contain educational workshops to further educate participants.

Presentations can be found at

Patricia A. Hoffman is the Assistant Secretary for the Office of Electricity Deliverability and Energy Reliability