"Michigan is going through some very tough economic times, and we recognize that energy bills are going to be difficult for many people to pay," said Jerry Norcia, president and COO of DTE Energy's MichCon natural gas utility. "We want our customers to know that there are options available that can help them manage their utility bills and get through the winter safe and warm."
DTE Energy was joined today by representatives from local community service agencies and others who share concerns about the economic realities of the upcoming heating season. Organizations joining the company included THAW (The Heat and Warmth Fund), the Salvation Army, United Way - 211, the Michigan Department of Human Services and a number of Detroit-area churches.
"To heat or to eat is a tough choice and a decision that no one should have to face this winter," Norcia said. "DTE Energy has a number of programs that help customers manage their utility bills and we are casting a wide safety net for our customers with support from many of the organizations represented here today.
Heating costs across the country are expected to be about 10 to 30 percent higher this winter than last season, according to David Parker, president of the American Gas Association which represents more than 200 energy companies nationwide. While Michigan will see costs at the lower end of the anticipated increase about 10 percent local households will experience a tougher challenge than other regions because of the state's difficult economy.
"Collaborative efforts between utilities, community and governmental organizations are exactly what we need to lessen the blow on those struggling to stay warm this winter," Parker said. "I can assure you that the common goal of all those present today is to avoid having to shut off service to those who are unable to pay, and to find options for all customers to maintain service this winter."
With a growing number of families trying to meet basic financial obligations, cooperative efforts between DTE Energy and the community will play a critical role in helping households maintain utility service, according to Dr. Bertram Marks of the Council of Baptist Ministers of Detroit and Vicinity.
"Whenever we are challenged in this region, we come together as a community to work things out," he said. "This is an excellent example of how we can help family, friends and neighbors manage their energy bills and safely maintain utility service by working together."
While DTE Energy understands that many households will have to make tough choices about what bills to pay this winter, the company warned that stealing electric or gas service is not only illegal, but extremely dangerous.
"Some customers are going to extreme measures to heat their homes and keep their lights on by reconnecting their gas or electric service in some of the most dangerous methods imaginable," Norcia said. "Let me be clear energy theft is dangerous... not only for those choosing to do so, but for others who may live nearby. If you steal electricity or gas, you are risking your life and the lives of others who are nearest and dearest to you."
While the heating season will present a particular challenge to those suffering economic hardships this winter, Steve Kurmas, president and COO-elect of DTE Energy's Detroit Edison electric utility, said that virtually everyone is looking for ways to manage their energy bills and reduce their energy use.
All households can benefit from energy conservation and efficiency.
"For instance, by lowering their thermostat just a few degrees consumers can save about 10 percent on their monthly heating bills," Kurmas said. "A number of simple, cost-effective energy saving tips are available on DTE Energy's Web site, and through an interactive online tool called MyEnergy Analyzer."
Kurmas said DTE Energy has conducted 50 free Energy Efficiency Forums around the state this year to teach customers how to seal air leaks, insulate their homes and obtain the most energy efficient appliances. The company also has launched a pilot program offering rebates to customers who purchase a high-efficiency furnace or have a professional energy audit performed on their home.
While DTE Energy offers a wide array of energy assistance programs, it is going to take a community effort to solve the significant challenges facing the state this winter, according to Kurmas.
"DTE Energy, the organizations represented here today and others working toward solutions need to be joined by individuals around the state to ensure that those people who need help this winter get it," Kurmas said. "No company, no individual, no church or social service agency will be able to tackle this alone. It must be a community effort."