Winter's early arrival prompts reminder of heating assistance
With our first taste of winter arriving earlier than expected, Governor Tim Pawlenty is reminding families who are having trouble paying their heating bills to contact their local utility company right away.
Minnesota's Cold Weather Rule, which takes effect Thursday, October 15, protects residential utility customers from having their heat shut off through April 15, provided they contact their utility to set up a payment plan.
"Staying warm during a Minnesota winter is not an option, it's a necessity," Pawlenty said. "As people begin thinking about winter, we want to make sure everyone is aware of Minnesota's Cold Weather Rule. Working out a payment plan with a utility will keep the heat on for Minnesota families who are facing financial challenges."
Administered by the Public Utilities Commission, the Cold Weather Rule requires local utility companies to offer home heating shut off protection to customers who call their utility company and set up a payment plan in exchange for keeping their heat on until April 15, 2010.
Households who need to reconnect their heat for this winter should call their utility company now to take advantage of these payment options.
Most utilities offer bill payment options that help even out the payment amounts over several months.
Minnesota consumers using delivered fuels such as fuel oil, propane or wood to heat their homes are not covered by the Cold Weather Rule.
Additional programs available to Minnesotans include the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and the Weatherization Assistance Program.
LIHEAP is federally funded through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and administered by the Minnesota Department of Commerce through 37 local service providers around the state.
The program helps customers with less than 50 percent of the state median income - $41,722 for a family of four - obtain grant money to help pay their heating bills. The average annual grant per household is about $500.
Households with seniors, disabled and children are especially encouraged to apply.
The Weatherization Assistance Program is funded through the U.S. Department of Energy and administered by the Minnesota Department of Commerce.
The program provides home energy conservation audits, safety inspections, and furnace and indoor air quality inspections for qualifying households. Customers signing up for Energy Assistance are automatically eligible for the Weatherization Program. Minnesota homeowners or renters may apply.
Other forms of assistance may be available through county social service programs, community based organizations and non-profit agencies such as The Salvation Army's Heat Share.
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. Energy saving recommendations include:
Seal attic bypasses. The Attic Bypass Guide from the Energy Information Center will help you locate and fix leaks inside your home that allow heated air to escape into the attic.
Turn down your thermostat to 65 degrees while at home and 55 or 60 degrees when away or asleep.
Replace your old furnace with a new, efficient model. Look for the ENERGY STAR label on all new appliances.
Replace or clean furnace filters monthly during the heating season.
Place window film on the interior of the leakiest windows in your home.
Install a carbon monoxide alarm.
Call your utility about having a home energy audit and ask about a budget plan to spread out your heating costs over several months.
Keep radiators and duct registers clean.
Call, write or email for a Low Cost-No Cost Home Energy Guides that contain many ways to help control energy costs all year long.
For more information on staying warm this winter, visit www.staywarm.mn.gov for details about heating assistance grants, gas and electric discount programs, weatherization help, and energy efficiency and safety tips. Or contact Minnesota's Energy Info Center toll free in Minnesota 1-800-657-3710.