BREEZY POINT - There's no snow on the ground yet, but frost has made an appearance. And Otto and Peggy Schmid of Breezy Point are smiling.
Guidelines for state's Cold Weather Rule
CenterPoint Energy is reminding its customers about their rights and responsibilities under the Cold Weather Rule, which protects residential customers having difficulty paying their natural gas bill from having their natural gas service disconnected from Oct. 15 through April 15. It does not rule out winter disconnection but does provide customers extra protection as defined in the rule.
To obtain extra protection, residential customers must contact CenterPoint Energy to establish a Cold Weather Rule payment plan and maintain their payment plan obligations.
More than 140,000 customers still owe more than $43 million in past-due bills. If customers receive a Notice of Proposed Disconnection, need service reconnected or anticipate having trouble paying their natural gas bill in full, they are urged to call CenterPoint Energy to enter into a payment plan.
The payment plan will cover what's owed and the amount to be billed and will take into consideration a customer's financial circumstances and other circumstances. The payment plan also must be agreeable to both the customer and CenterPoint Energy. If an agreed-upon payment plan cannot be reached, customers have a right to appeal under the rule.
Customers who receive energy assistance are automatically eligible for protection under the Cold Weather Rule, but they must contact CenterPoint Energy to establish a payment plan. Special payment terms are available to customers who provide proof of income and to customers who meet income guidelines set by the state of Minnesota but do not receive energy assistance.
For Cold Weather Rule protection, contact CenterPoint Energy to set up a payment plan at (612) 372-4680 or (800) 729-6164.
This is the first fall they didn't have to fill their 500-gallon propane tank. Last year, the Schmids spent $1,800 on propane. They filled up their tank early in the fall, had to refill it to make it through the winter and filled it again in late March.
The Schmids said that, last year, the cost of propane rose to $1.89 a gallon. This year, it's projected to be $2.50 a gallon or more.
"Last spring, propane got so expensive, so we began looking at getting electric heat in our house," Peggy Schmid said. "We wanted to get a second heating source to cut down cost."
The Schmids were about to install electric heat, but found out that Xcel Energy was installing a natural gas line down East Street, off Crow Wing County Road 11 near their home. The couple moved into their home in Breezy Point in 2005, when there was no natural gas line to hook up to.
Otto and Peggy Schmid of Breezy Point recently talked about how they converted from propane to natural gas. The Schmids have two fireplaces in the house that also had to be converted. Brainerd Dispatch/Jennifer Stockinger
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The Schmids spent $80 after rebates to have Xcel Energy run a natural gas line from the street to their home. They also spent $435 for a contractor to convert their furnace and fireplaces to natural gas.
"We think we'll recoup this cost back in two years," said Otto Schmid. "In the long run, we'll save with this conversion.
"We're still using propane for our garage, but we don't need our huge propane tank. The propane company is going to buy the propane back and remove the tank."
Peggy Schmid said she's happy to have natural gas because it's a cleaner-burning fuel, they won't have a large propane tank sitting in their yard and they won't have to worry about running out of fuel.
The largest advantage the Schmids said was the savings and not having to pay a large chunk of cash upfront to fill a propane tank. They're looking forward to paying for their heat on a monthly basis.
Otto and Peggy Schmid's propane tank sits near their home in Breezy Point. The tank soon will be removed as the couple converted to natural gas. Brainerd Dispatch/Jennifer Stockinger
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James Catalano, Xcel Energy market manager, said about 70 percent of the people in Minnesota use natural gas and about 15 percent use propane. Catalano said that, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the breakdown in Crow Wing County is 55 percent natural gas, 18 percent Liquefied Petroleum gas, 13 percent electricity and 6 percent fuel oil or kerosene, with the remaining 8 percent using another type of heating source.
Catalano said an audit is done to determine a consumer's use, cost and whether it would make sense for them to switch to natural gas. Catalano said rebates help with the cost of converting, and within one year, homeowners can recoup the conversion cost through energy savings. Catalano said that, on average, a homeowner saves about $800 a year on heating bills by switching from propane to natural gas.
Other advantages to converting to natural gas from propane, according to Catalano: Homeowners don't have to call for delivery of the product, they pay for it after they use it, they don't need a huge tank in their yard and - the main advantage - natural gas is cleaner and omits less carbon into the atmosphere than petroleum-based products.
Xcel is offering the $200 conversion coupon this year. Catalano said Xcel also has a rebate for savings up to $200 for customers if they buy high-efficiency appliances.
Catalano said distance - how far the natural gas line needs to go - is a big factor in determining whether to convert to natural gas. Xcel Energy installation charges are $3.50 a foot, with the first 75 feet free. But if, say, there's a risk of gophers in the area, there's an additional $1.15-a-foot charge and the cost for the first 75 feet isn't waived as special sleeving is required.
Catalano said a typical city lot is less than 100 feet and the bigger lots with longer driveways will cost much more.
"The tough part for a lot of people is the upfront cost for us to come up to their house," Catalano said. "It depends on how far away they are from our gas line. For people who are farther away, we tell them that in a couple years they'll get that money back. We have financing available for these people from an outside vender, US Bank, they can work with us to get all the details on getting service installed and the financing options."
JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5851.
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