Helping pay the bills |

Helping pay the bills

Jennifer Gremmert and Greg Schnacke

This winter, low-income residents across the state once again will seek assistance to help pay their escalating utility bills. Limits to energy development plus tight demand will be what affects consumer prices. Because of these high prices, the state’s most vulnerable residents will continue to struggle to pay their home utility bills.According to recent census data, more than one-fifth of Colorado’s 4.3 million residents are unable to afford energy to heat their homes each winter. Energy Outreach Colorado, the state’s only nonprofit that raises money to help low-income residents afford home energy, anticipates a 10 percent increase in low-income residents – more than 105,000 – who will seek assistance this year.Since 2001, natural gas prices have nearly doubled because of worldwide demand, affecting consumers, businesses and industry users alike. According to the Energy Information Agency, natural gas prices will continue to rise, with demand forecast to increase 40 percent by 2025. This trend will continue to affect consumers heating and cooling their homes, and the businesses that provide services we’ve now come to depend on.That’s why it is important immediate financial assistance is made available to low-income families, especially during the long, harsh winter months.For the last 15 years, EOC has provided short- and long-term support to those most in need. Since 1989, it has distributed more than $56 million toward short-term energy assistance. It is through this two-pronged approach that EOC is able to usher recipients along the path to maximizing energy efficiency.As part of the short-term support, EOC distributes funds to low-income seniors, families and the disabled so they can pay their home energy bills. EOC raises funds for, and provides financial assistance to, 73 other crisis assistance agencies with 84 sites throughout the state. For the 2005-06 heating season, EOC will apportion nearly $7 million in energy assistance – more than double the amount distributed in 2002.A portion of funds distributed also support weatherization of new and pre-existing affordable housing, as part of EOC’s long-term support. Through the Energy Solutions Grants program, EOC and its partners implement cost-cutting energy consumption measures, such as caulking walls and installing insulation windows. These weatherization methods help low-income residents reduce their monthly utility bills and dependence on bill payment assistance.Last year, nearly 500 single-family and multifamily households across the state were weatherized through EOC contributions, with the families experiencing significant energy savings.From the beginning, EOC has formed a broad coalition of support with individuals, corporations, utilities and others groups. Since 2000, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association and its members have donated more than $1.5 million to support energy assistance programs in Colorado, including EOC. Together, both our organizations are dedicated to the efficient delivery of cost-effective energy assistance, energy conservation and energy education to Colorado’s neediest residents. Jennifer Gremmert is deputy director of Energy Outreach Colorado. Greg Schnacke is executive vice president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.