Programs offer help paying heating bills |

Programs offer help paying heating bills

Energy bill assistance and home weatherization are available to low-income households for help during the winter months.

Nevada County, along with some Truckee-Tahoe area utility companies and private groups, are offering help with power bills and ways to make power bills less expensive for low-income households.

Nina Bigley, the program manager for Nevada County’s Community Development Agency said the county offers a Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, an Energy Crisis Intervention Program, and a Weatherizing Assistance Program to help households stay warm through the winter.

“The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program is a one-time-a-year payment of up to $500 for power, propane, oil, or wood heating,” Bigley said.

The funding for this program comes from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and is administered through the county.

The Energy Crisis Intervention Program is for people facing a 48-hour or 15-day shut-off notice for power to keep the heater running, Bigley said.

“If they get a utility shut-off notice, they get put at the front of the line,” Bigley said. “We try and work something out with the utility company.”

Weatherization can be used by both homeowners and landlords, and can permanently reduce energy bills by making homes more efficient.

“We have a crew go through and do an evaluation of the home, stuff like a blower door test for air leakage, or replace or repair heaters,” Bigley said.

According to the Department of Energy, weatherization reduces heating bills by up to 31 percent and overall energy bills by $237 a year on average.

Eligible low-income households can apply for any combination of the programs according to need, Bigley said. A household is considered eligible when earnings do not exceed more than 60 percent of the state median income. For a family of four living in California seeking assistance, annual earnings may not exceed $41,626.

“The low-income level is relatively low so we don’t see a lot in [the Truckee] area because incomes are too high,” Bigley said. “There are also higher numbers of undocumented aliens who can’t qualify up there, so some folks who could use it the most we can’t help.”

She said these programs are important for health and safety, especially for the elderly, disabled or young children.

“In the winter there are a high number of deaths from unconventional heating and carbon monoxide poisoning,” Bigley said.

Gail Tondettar, Placer County program manager for Health and Human Services, said Placer does not have its own energy assistance or weatherization programs, and instead refers inquiries to the California Alternate Rates for Energy program through Sierra Pacific Power and Southwest Gas.

The county also refers those interested in receiving energy assistance to Project Go, a program in Placer County that works on energy conservation assistance for low-income residents.

Robyn Clayton, manager of corporate communications for Southwest Gas Corporation, said the California Alternate Rates for Energy Program gives a 20 percent discount on monthly gas bills for households that qualify.

Southwest Gas also offers a weatherization program similar to Nevada County’s, using local contractors and working with the state and federal government, Clayton said.

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