As old man winter approaches, many are finding that utility costs are taking a bite out of their pocket.

The good news is utility companies and the federal government offer some money saving solutions to rising energy costs.

“We have a rolling 12-month program Miami customers can apply for,” said Judy Francisco, assistant to the city manager. “Customers are given an average bill based on the previous 12 months of utility costs.”

Francisco said that unlike some level pay programs, which keep a customer's bill the same rate year around, Miami's rates vary from month-to-month while still keeping energy costs affordable during high usage months.

“While your bill varies from month-to-month, it makes the amount you owe more predictable,” Francisco said.

Oklahoma Natural Gas offers a similar level pay program. However, enrollment for the voluntary fixed-price plan is closed for the 2008-2009 plan year.

Low-income households can apply for Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). LIHEAP is a block grant program that provides energy assistance to help eligible low-income households meet their home energy needs.

Assistance can be applied for at several area tribal offices, the Department of Human Services or online at www.BenefitsCheckUp.org.

Local utility companies offer the following tips for lowering energy bills this winter:

€ Turn down the thermostat - especially when leaving the house for awhile. Up to 5 percent can be saved on the energy bill for each degree of temperature change.

€ Change light bulbs to energy-saving compact fluorescent lights (CFL).

€ Turn off power strips or unplug electronics such as TVs, video players and computers. Appliances still use around 70 percent of their usual energy when left on standby.

€ Close curtains at dusk, which will stop heat escaping through the windows. But open the drapes, blinds or shades on sunny winter days to let warmth in.

€ Close the fireplace damper when the fireplace is not in use.

€ Properly seal and insulate attics and save up to 10 percent annually on energy bills.

€ Caulk window seals around the glass to provide additional insulation. If the has a window air-conditioning unit, weather-strip the seams around the unit.

€ Insulate the water heater and hot water pipes - particularly in unheated spaces.

€ Turn the water heater temperature down to 120°F. Every reduction of 10 degrees can save up to 5 percent on heating costs.

€ Keep appliances clean and in good condition. Clogged air vents or worn-out parts make motors work harder, which wastes energy.