Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Managing Winter Home Energy Bills

Over the fall and winter months, the PUCO will be providing information to help consumers “Keep PACE with Winter Heating Bills.” By utilizing the four aspects of PACE – Preparation, Assistance Programs, Choice, and Energy Conservation – consumers can help keep their heating bills more manageable throughout the winter heating season.
Sometimes despite even our best preparation, it can be difficult to pay for winter heating bills. For these situations, there are state and federal assistance programs available to help pay for both natural gas and electric bills. By taking the time to research these assistance programs now, you will be better prepared to apply for and receive assistance if you need it this winter.

Winter Reconnect Order Assistance now Available
Each year, the PUCO issues the Winter Reconnect Order to allow customers who have had their heat disconnected or are faced with disconnection to pay $175 plus a reconnection fee of no more than $20 to have service restored or maintained. If you owe less than $175, you can prevent disconnection by just paying the amount owed. New for the 2008-09 winter heating season: Customers requesting new natural gas or electric service, who have no previous balance with their utility, may establish service using the winter reconnect order.

You can use the Winter Reconnect Order only once from now until April 15, 2009. There is no income requirement, but you will have to sign up for a payment plan.

Contact your natural gas or electric company to learn more using the Winter Reconnect Order to keep your service turned on. More information is available on the
PUCO Web site.

Additional Assistance Programs for Qualifying Households
Percentage of Income Payment Plan
The Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP) allows eligible customers to pay a certain percentage of their monthly income for utility services, making the payments more affordable. If you are eligible for PIPP, you will pay 10 percent of your income for your primary heating source and 5 percent for your secondary heating source during the winter heating season.
To qualify for PIPP, you must:

· Apply for all energy assistance that you are eligible for; and
· Have a gross yearly household income at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level.

To sign up for PIPP, contact your gas or electric company.
More information is available on the PUCO Web site.

Home Energy Assistance Program

The Home Energy Assistance Program, commonly known as HEAP, is a federal program administered by the Ohio Department of Development (ODOD). Through HEAP, you can receive a one-time assistance payment based on your usage to help pay for heating bills.

Any customer who meets the income guidelines is eligible to apply for HEAP. You can find HEAP applications at local Community Action Agencies, post offices, and libraries throughout the state. Keep in mind that each household should only mail one HEAP application per winter heating season. For more information about HEAP, contact the
Ohio Department of Development.

Winter Crisis Program

The Winter Crisis Program is a special component of HEAP that provides assistance to eligible households that are disconnected or being threatened with heating disconnection. This program is administered by local Community Action Agencies, and you should
contact your local Community Action Agency for more information about the program.

HeatShare Program

The HeatShare program is administered by the Salvation Army throughout Ohio to help households who qualify pay for natural gas bills. The program runs from January through May, or until the funds run out. Each natural gas company may have different eligibility requirements for the HeatShare program, so you should
contact your local Salvation Army for more information.

Home Weatherization Assistance Program

The Home Weatherization Assistance Program provides education and funding to help low-income households conserve energy and lower their monthly bills. Through this program, you may qualify for services such as insulation, air leakage reduction, heating system repairs or replacements, and health and safety testing. For more information about this program,
contact the Ohio Energy Office.

Assistance Regardless of Income

If you don’t financially qualify for utility assistance programs, there are other payment arrangements available with no income requirements to help households manage heating costs.

Budget Billing
While budget billing may not provide monetary assistance, this program helps you manage energy costs by spreading out the cost of your energy usage over a 12-month period. This way, you pay a set amount each month of the year instead of facing higher bills during the winter months. To learn more or sign up for budget billing, contact your utility company.