Consumers Energy: Help is available if you can't afford utility bills

Published: Jan. 30, 2018 at 5:30 PM EST
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(1/30/2018) - Consumers Energy says Mid-Michigan's run of frigid weather in late December and early January jacked up customers' bills by 25 percent.

Spokeswoman Debra Dodd said the colder than average stretch of weather for two weeks caused a 25 percent increase in natural gas usage for home heating.

"Similar to a car using more gas on a long trip compared to local errand, furnaces in Michigan have been using more natural gas this winter compared to the same time period last year as they work hard to keep the insides of homes warm during extended periods of frigid outside temperatures," Dodd said.

She said natural gas rates only increased less than 1 percent this winter compared to a year ago, so usage is causing most of the sharp increase in most people's bills.

"While we don’t have final numbers for January yet, our projections show that natural gas use for households will be up by 26 percent this month due to the extreme cold weather that blanketed our state," Dodd said.

Hundreds of people have complained on social media that their bills doubled or tripled from November to December and January. For families on a tight budget, an extra couple hundred dollars is tough absorb.

Consumers recently donated $10 million to energy assistance funds across Michigan, helping pay utility bills that people can't afford. Dodd said the funds are available by calling 211.

Organizations that received part of the $10 million include:

• Michigan Community Action

• The Salvation Army

• The Heat and Warmth Fund (THAW)

• TrueNorth Community Services

• Society of St. Vincent DePaul

• United Way of Jackson County

Consumers Energy also has a variety of programs and payment arrangements that are available by calling 1-800-477-5050 or by visiting its customer assistance website, which is under "Related Links" on the right side of this story.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services offers an assistance program for utility payments on a sliding scale based on family size. See "Related Links" for more information.