FITCHBURG -- Unitil Corporation, a provider of natural gas and electricity to customers throughout New England, is urging customers to be aware of fuel assistance programs available to assist with heating costs as winter approaches.
That was the message shared with nonprofit and community leaders who attended a heating assistance forum on Nov. 1 at Great Wolf Lodge. The forum was sponsored by Unitil and co-hosted with United Way of North Central Massachusetts.
"Utility customers can reduce the stress of managing their energy bills over a long and cold winter by taking advantage of these programs," Sue Corson, credit supervisor for Unitil, said.
John Keeney of New England Farm Workers' Council, which manages the Federal Fuel Assistance program, said a family of four with a household income of $68,289 or less would qualify for the program. For a single person, the income figure is $35,510.
According to Keeney, residents should apply for this program as soon as possible and not wait until financial difficulties before seeking assistance. Residents can learn more about qualification guidelines for fuel assistance by reaching out to New England Farm Workers' Council in Fitchburg, 978-342-4520.
Corson reviewed the utility company's budget billing program, which makes monthly utility bills more affordable by leveling out higher seasonal energy bills, which are spread out throughout the year.
In addition, customers may qualify for a discount rate on natural gas or electricity, depending on household size and income. Unitil works with the New England Farm Workers' Council to approve customers for the discount rate as well as other agencies that provide public benefits.
Customers who qualify for the discount rate, have an overdue balance of $300 or more for their gas service and enter into an agreement to pay their current utility budgeted bills on time, may be eligible to participate in the Arrears Forgiveness Program, which provides up to $1,200 in relief per year on their outstanding balances.
Unitil's Derek Kimball reviewed Unitil's MassSave energy efficiency programs, including the federal Weatherization Assistance Program, which is managed by the Montachusett Opportunity Council.
It provides no-cost energy saving improvements, such as insulation and heating system repairs, to homeowners who meet the guidelines, which require a household income of 60 percent or less of the state's median household income.
Kimball also reviewed Mass Save's 'Enhanced Residential Program' offers, which are designed for household incomes that fall between 60 percent and 80 percent of the state's median income.
In addition to homeowners, the program also provides incentives for renters that include: a visit from an energy expert to conduct a no-cost home energy assessment, installation of instant savings measures of light bulbs, power strips, gas/water saving aerators and showerheads in addition to collecting energy efficiency information on potential weatherization upgrades to share with the landlord.
As a special offer, the program also allows for a 90 percent incentive with no cap to install energy saving home improvements, such as insulation, air sealing if you are assigned a home assessment between Sept. 1 and Dec. 31.
Customers may also be eligible for interest free loans of up to $25,000, for 84 months, on qualifying energy efficiency upgrades through their lender. There are also generous incentives, up to $3,250, for qualifying older working yet inefficient heating equipment.
"This meeting with the nonprofit community helps get the word out on these important programs," Unitil Media Relations Manager Alec O'Meara said. "We really encourage homeowners and renters to reach out to us and New England Farm Workers' Council to see if they qualify for any of these programs. They can really make a difference."
Maribeth Janssens, director of community impact at United Way of North Central Massachusetts, told listeners about its emergency shelter program, which provides emergency shelter to homeless people during extreme weather conditions.
The initiative is managed by United Way, with its community partners, and funded by the Ronald M. Ansin Foundation and the Community Foundation of North Central Massachusetts. For more information, local agencies can call the United Way of North Central Massachusetts at 978-345-1577, x304.
To learn more about any of Unitil's programs, customers may call 1-888-301-7700.