Heating assistance available

February 10, 2004|by WANDA T. WILLIAMS

The single-digit temperatures of January have doubled and tripled utility bills for thousands of electric customers who cranked up the heat to endure this year's cold wave, said Nelia Tidler, Billing and Customer Service supervisor with Hagerstown's City Light Department.

"A typical example is a home with a summer bill of $60, in December the bill increased to $295 and in January it was $356.86," she said.

In cooperation with the Maryland Public Service Commission, the city doesn't disconnect electric service for nonpayment of residential accounts from November through March.


Financial assistance is still available for customers who qualify.

"It's crucial that anyone who is experiencing payment difficulty should contact the utility company," said Rob Boulware with Columbia Gas of Maryland.

In addition to providing assistance through company programs like the Fuel Fund in Maryland and Pennsylvania's Dollar Energy Fund, Columbia Gas will help customers identify outside sources that provide financial assistance, Boulware said.

Companies like Allegheny Power, Columbia Gas and some area fuel companies offer payment plans that spread payments over a 12-month period at a consistent rate. Such plans help customers avoid significant rate hikes during unusually high usage periods in the winter and summer months.

Allegheny Power and Columbia Gas also offer financial assistance through the federal funded Maryland Energy Assistance Program (MEAP).

In Washington County, MEAP money is available through the Community Action Council, at 101 Summit Ave. in Hagerstown.

"Two hundred and seventy five dollar grants are available to citizens who qualify, which can be used toward any vendor who provides heat," said CAC Executive Director Dave Jordan.

"The year started in July and we've already taken nearly 3,000 applications," said Jordan, who says households that already have qualified can apply a second time only if surplus funds are awarded for crisis assistance, and so far that hasn't happened.

Columbia Gas has instituted a voluntary moratorium on terminating customer service until March 1, but only for low-income customers, said Boulware.

Allegheny Power is required to file an affidavit with the Maryland Public Service Commission 24 hours prior to terminating service between November and March 31, according to Allegheny's Manager of Communications Allen Staggers.

He said Allegheny Power's goal is to help customers in need identify resources so they can pay their bills and not have service terminated.

The Herald-Mail Articles