While the economy remains difficult, there is good news as we approach the 2011-2012 winter heating season (November through March). For the second consecutive winter, the outlook for natural gas prices is low and stable. Columbia Gas remains committed to working with every customer to ensure their service is maintained, and you are a vital partner in helping it achieve this goal.
A trend not seen in recent years is that a large number of customers who qualify for assistance have not received help for a number of reasons: they weren't aware of available programs; their economic situation changed and they did not know that they would qualify for help; or, they were unsure where to seek assistance. Columbia Gas hopes that it can ensure these households will find the help they need this winter.
In an effort to ensure that no one goes without heat this winter, Columbia Gas is providing the following information for the 2011-2012 winter season:
Natural Gas Costs
Several factors have contributed to help reduce the price of natural gas to near-decade lows, including new production from large resources of natural gas in the continental United States, record gas storage levels, and a mild hurricane and summer weather season. These factors provide a strong indication that natural gas prices should remain stable, with minimal possibility of a spike due to a cold snap, for the 2011-2012 winter heating season.
Winter Bill Projection
During the winter heating season, 72% of the average customer's bill is the cost of the commodity: natural gas. The previously-mentioned good news -- natural gas prices are at near decade lows -- should be good news for consumer bills this winter heating season. Consumers are positioned to see bills at the same levels as last year and, depending upon weather and other factors, they could even be among the lowest in the past decade. Additionally, customers will benefit from Columbia Gas's levelized gas distribution rate structure again this winter. Customers are no longer exposed to a volumetric gas delivery charge during winter months, when demand and consumption are at their highest levels. These factors should allow consumers to enjoy bills that are easier on their household budgets.
Assistance With Bills
While prices should remain low and stable for the foreseeable future, and bills more tolerable compared to a few years ago, Columbia Gas understands that many of its customers are struggling with their entire household budgets.
There are several programs and options to share; however, the first suggestion for every situation is: Contact Columbia Gas of Ohio at the first sign you may have of trouble paying your bill. The sooner it hears about an issue or problem, the more options will be available for assistance.
Interrupting someone's service is always the last resort for Columbia Gas and the company will work with customers to try to ensure service is not interrupted. Customers whose service is currently shut off, or those who are at risk to be shut off, should consider these options:
- Payment Plans: Any Columbia Gas of Ohio customer who feels that they might have a problem paying their winter heating bills should call 1.800.344.4077 for assistance in enrolling in the one-ninth, one-sixth, or winter one-third payment plan that can make bills easier to handle.
- Winter Crisis Program (Formerly known as E-HEAP): Beginning November 1st, qualified low-income customers are eligible for the Winter Crisis Program, formerly E-HEAP, funds that can be used, if necessary, to pay a $175 reconnection fee established by the public Utilities Commission of Ohio. For more information, call the Ohio Department of Development at 1.800.282.0880.
- Percentage of Income Payment Plan Plus (PIPP Plus): Households at or less than 150% of federal poverty guidelines may be eligible to pay just 6% of monthly income or $10, whichever is greater, for their gas bill year-round. If you were previously a PIPP customer, a co-payment of up to your entire PIPP defaulted amount may be required for you to enroll in PIPP Plus. For more information, call the Ohio Department of Development at 1.800.282.0880.
- Fuel Funds: Columbia Gas of Ohio customers are encouraged to contact their local Community Action Agency to see if monies from the Fuel Fund programs are still available. These funds are designated to assist households with incomes up to 200% of the federal poverty level and are available until they are exhausted. There are multiple programs with different income qualifications.
- Budget Payment Plan: It's not too late for customers who are current on their bill to enroll in Columbia's Budget Payment Plan program, which spreads winter heating costs across the entire year. Enrollment options include: Enroll online at ColumbiaGasOhio.com -- click on "Manage Your Account" and log in to enroll any time. Or, call 1.800.344.4077 -- select Option 1 from the main menu and follow the appropriate prompts for information on the budget plan.
- WarmChoice®: Columbia Gas offers an energy inspection and weatherization program for customers with household income at or below 150% of federal poverty guidelines. WarmChoice services are provided at no cost and can reduce customer bills by an average of 30%. And all customers are left with safe gas heating equipment and a more comfortable home. For information go to ColumbiaGasOhio.com or contact the statewide referral service at 1.800.952.3037 (WarmChoice weatherization calls only, please) to be directed to your local provider.
- Home Performance Solutions: The Homer Performance Solutions program offers rebates of up to 70% on qualified energy-efficiency improvements that can reduce a home's annual energy consumption by 30% or more, saving up to $6,000 on utility bills over the life of the improvements. The program includes a home energy audit, a $500 value that costs only $50. Columbia's rebates can be combined with Federal Energy Tax Credits, manufacturers' rebates and other incentives to reduce overall costs even more. To schedule an energy audit or obtain more information about the program, Columbia customers should call 1.877.644.6674.
No Income Eligibility Requirement
Columbia Gas makes every attempt to assist customers who are having difficulty paying their gas bills. Customers should contact the company immediately at 1.800.344.4077 to make special arrangements.
Budget Payment Plan
Spreads the cost of winter heating more evenly over the year. It won't reduce your overall cost of home heating, but it can help to avoid peak winter bills so you can plan household expenses more conveniently. For information, call Columbia Gas at 1.800.344.4077.
Home Performance Solutions
Open to all Columbia Gas residential heating customers, this program offers discounted home energy audits and generous rebates on cost-effective energy-efficiency improvements, including air sealing, attic and wall insulation and replacement high-efficiency gas furnaces. The rebates can reduce the cost of the energy-efficiency improvements by hundreds or thousands of dollars, and the improvements can reduce a home's annual energy usage by 30% or more. Call 1.877.644.6674 for details.
In order to have service restored, areas in and around the appliances must provide a safe and healthy working environment for Columbia Gas representatives. We also request that you know the location of your natural gas meter and all natural gas appliances that require attention as well as appropriate access arrangements.