Throughout the 2014 winter, cold fronts and snow storms have continually swept across the northeastern states, keeping most people home-bound for days at a time. This winter season, the fierce cold has been especially bitter, forcing many homeowners to crank up their heat just to keep a comfortable temperature inside their homes.
Consumers Energy, the unit of Jackson-based CMS Energy Corp. and the fourth largest natural gas company in the United States, reports that its residential customers are using 26 percent more natural gas this winter as compared to a year ago. The energy company has stated that the typical home owning customer has paid 15 percent more for natural gas this winter than last winter yet their fee per unit is the lowest it has been in a decade. Company officials said during a media conference call Wednesday, Feb. 12, that its prices for natural gas are down about 9 percent from last year.
The utility has also been making its customers aware of other ways to keep the prices of their energy bills as low as possible this winter. By doing simple things such as lowering the thermostat by only a degree or two, keeping curtains and blinds closed and making sure vents are not blocked by furniture will help dramatically lower energy bill pricing from one to three percent.
With a goal to keep heating costs low, Consumers Energy released its plans for help in a phone conference. With its call center receiving a flood of calls all winter from people asking for assistance and the company has responded with plans that it will start a Severe Weather Assistance Team (“SWAT”), a division designed to better help customers find solutions to reducing or paying their bills. This will be the first endeavor of its kind for the company as it aims to help people hurting from the costs of heating their homes.
“We’re doing our best to keep them low.” said Garrick Rochow, VP of Customer Operations and Quality at Consumers Energy. The company has been able to cut the cost of the natural gas by purchasing it in the summer – when it costs less – and storing it in the utility’s 15 underground storage fields.
“We work hard throughout the whole year so we don’t pass on price spikes. We know this extraordinary winter is putting a strain on families.” Patti Poppe, VP of Customer Experience, Rates and Regulations for Consumers Energy, made clear. “We are not treating this winter as business as usual. We are working hard to make sure we are ready and prepared to serve customers.”
One concern was that because of the difficult weather hitting this season, Consumer Energy meter readers are not able to get out to some homes. This, in turn, can drive up estimates. Recognizing this issue, the company has answered with a plan to resolve the problem;
“With these subzero temperatures, frost bite concerns as well, our meter readers’ rate is down, and that means estimates are up. But our customers should rest assured that we are ramping up resources – and getting resources out in the field to make sure we get accurate readings,” Mr. Rochow explained.
The Consumers “SWAT” team went live on Monday, February 17th and can be reached at 1-800-477-5050.