Cold Weather Rule, heating assistance available to low-income Minnesotans
With snow already pounding northwestern Minnesota and freezing temperatures around the corner for all Minnesotans, the Minnesota Department of Commerce and the Public Utilities Commission are encouraging low-income Minnesotans to contact their utilities to ask about Minnesota's Cold Weather Rule and to apply for the Energy Assistance Program (EAP) through their local service providers.
The Minnesota Department of Commerce administers EAP in partnership with 34 local service providers throughout the state. EAP is federally funded through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The program helps renters and homeowners earning less than 50 percent of the state's median income ($42,789 for a family of four) obtain grant money to help pay their heating bills.
"Now is the time to remember that winter temperatures are not only cold, but they can be very dangerous," said Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman. "Our Energy Assistance Program serves as a safety net offering financial assistance to low-income Minnesotans, particularly households with seniors, disabled residents, children, and veterans. Having a warm home is a basic human necessity, and no Minnesotan deserves to be left out in the cold."
Minnesota's Cold Weather Rule takes effect on October 15 and protects residential utility customers from having their heat shut off through April 15, 2013. But to prevent heating disconnection, customers must contact their utility to set up a monthly payment plan.
"The Cold Weather Rule protects the most vulnerable Minnesotans during our frigid winters. This ensures households in need are safe, warm, and healthy," said Public Utilities Commission Chair Beverly Jones Heydinger. "By working out a payment plan with their utility, Minnesota's families can keep the heat on while they face financial difficulty."
Cold Weather Rule
The Cold Weather Rule, administered by the PUC, requires local utility companies to offer home heating shut off protection to customers who call their utility and set up a payment plan in exchange for keeping their heat on through April 15. Households that need to reconnect their heat for this winter should call their utility company now to take advantage of these payment options.
All natural gas and electric utilities must follow some level of the Cold Weather Rule. If electricity is used to heat one's home, customers may apply for Cold Weather Rule protection with their electric company. Minnesota consumers using delivered fuels such as fuel oil, propane, or wood to heat their homes are not covered by the rule. More information on the Cold Weather Rule is available at the PUC website or by calling 651-296-7124 or 800-657-3782.
Energy Assistance Program
To help pay home heating costs, Minnesota offers the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, known as the Energy Assistance Program (EAP). The average annual EAP grant per household last year was $400. Households with seniors, disabled residents and children are especially encouraged to apply. Applications were recently sent to households that qualified for EAP last year; others who may qualify are encouraged to apply. To apply, contact the local service provider in your county by calling 1-800-657-3710 or visit the EAP section on the Division of Energy Resources website.
The Minnesota Department of Commerce also administers the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), a companion program of EAP, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The program provides cost-effective energy conservation measures to reduce energy costs for low-income households. Customers who meet the income guidelines for EAP may be eligible for weatherization, as well as additional discounts from utilities. Both homeowners and renters may apply for weatherization.
Other forms of assistance may be available through county social service programs, community-based organizations and nonprofit agencies. For a complete list of resources and more information about financial assistance programs, energy efficiency, and heating safety, visit the Stay Warm Minnesota webpage.
The Minnesota Department of Commerce Energy Information Center provides a wide range of energy-saving information that every household can use to help control their heating costs. Some basic no-cost and low-cost energy-saving recommendations include:
· Weather strip and caulk windows and doors to eliminate air infiltration.
· Cover drafty windows with tightly sealed plastic to keep the warm air in.
· Open curtains and blinds on south-facing windows to let the sun in during the day to naturally heat your home.
· Seal air leaks to prevent cold air infiltration through chimneys, vents, pipes, and wires that penetrate walls, ceilings and attics.
· Close your fireplace damper when a fire is not in use to prevent warm air from escaping.
· Maintain your heating system. Have annual furnace or boiler tune-ups, clean or replace furnace filters regularly, and consider replacing old heating systems with more efficient ENERGY STAR models.
· Use a programmable thermostat. Set your thermostat to automatically turn down the heat at night and when you're not at home.
More energy-saving tips can be found via the U.S. Department of Energy at www.energysavers.gov. For more information on energy efficiency and energy conservation, visit the Commerce Department website and check out two consumer energy guides: Home Envelope and Appliances, Lighting, Electronics.