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Low-income families get a boost of energy

Heidi RiceRifle Correspondent

Low-income residents throughout Garfield County are encouraged to take advantage of an energy assistance program being offered through a joint effort between Energy Outreach Colorado and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.This is the fifth year the EOC has offered financial assistance to low-income families, and may be especially important in light of the long, cold winter predicted for this year in Colorado.”We help families pay their energy bills,” said Jennifer Gremmert, deputy director of EOC in Denver. “We also help to increase energy efficiency in affordable housing.”EOC began distributing more than $5.15 million in early November, which it will provide through October 2005. Last year, more than 107,000 households received assistance.”The cost to heat a home in Colorado has doubled in two years and, for many residents, it was unaffordable two years ago,” said Skip Arnold, executive director for EOC. “The nearly 400,000 low-income families and seniors in this state again will be forced to choose between heat and food, or heat and medication.”Due to rising gas prices, heating bills are expected to increase by about 15 percent this year, according to EOC.The EOC program was established 15 years ago and since 2003, COGA has partnered with the organization by contributing financial assistance to help mitigate soaring energy costs.In Garfield County, assistance in paying heating bills is provided through Holy Cross Electric in Glenwood Springs. However, the assistance is also available to other power customers, such as Xcel Energy.”We give the agency the funding, and they give (the consumer) a credit based on the number of people in a household,” Gremmert said.EOC defines low-income as a family of four making $30,000 or less per year, or an individual with an income of $18,000 or less. Applicants must provide proof of income through tax forms or Social Security and be legal residents.EOC provides an average of $220 to $275 in assistance to a family per year. The average in winterization assistance is about $2,000 per home.COGA has contributed to the funding through its associates and partners, according to Greg Schnake, vice president of COGA.But Schnake pointed out that although gas prices are high right now, it could be worse. Because so much natural gas is produced in western Colorado, residents don’t have to pay the cost of transportation to deliver the gas.”Colorado produces 4 percent of the U.S. gas supply,” Schnake said. “There would be a big jump (in price) if we were to curtail gas production here. The good thing about our state is that because we’re near production areas, it lowers the rates. More supply helps relieve upward price pressure.”Nevertheless, an ongoing increase in Colorado’s population and development — and the demand for energy – will likely keep the prices high.”There are more homes, more cars, more computers and more power demands,” Schnake said. “All those things are powered by energy. We’re likely going to see those prices stay relatively high.”Representatives from EOC and COGA are traveling around the state to inform residents of the energy assistance available to them.”We want to educate people about energy assistance programs and where to get help,” Gremmert said. “Low income families and seniors are where some of our largest concerns are.””We want to educate people about energy assistance programs and where to get help,” Gremmert said. “Low income families and seniors are where some of our largest concerns are.”


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