Newsmakers, January 31, 2019

Air Date:
Heard On Newsmakers
Pat Boland, Tom Mayne and Tom Miller
Pat Boland, Tom Mayne and Tom Miller Hope Kirwan/WPR

Experts who help people with home heating emergencies in western Wisconsin say there’s no reason for someone to be left in a cold house during the winter.

Much of the United States is dealing with colder than normal weather this week including record cold temperatures in the upper Midwest due to a polar vortex.

“We find a lot of especially elderly people that haven’t had to reach out for help in the past,” said Tom Mayne, the director of Couleecap’s Energy Services program.

The agency serves people in Monroe, Crawford, Vernon and La Crosse Counties.

“When the weather gets to this point and is this dangerous, we can help with the bill, we’ll get you through, just keep your temperature at a comfortable level,” he said.

Pat Boland, manager of customer policy and assistance for Xcel Energy, said people should not lower their thermostats just because they’re worried about paying their utility bills.

“That next bill, we can help you figure that out, whether it’s making a payment arrangement or referring customers to energy assistance organizations,” Boland said. “We want to deal with the bill when it’s appropriate, but first and foremost is the health and safety (of residents).”

State law prohibits utility companies from shutting off someone’s heat from Nov. 1 to April 15. Each county has a home energy assistance program that can help residents make a payment on their heating bills and fix, or in some cases replace, non-operating furnaces or boilers. Residents can also access crisis assistance if they have no heat or are almost out of heating fuel.

Tom Miller, administrator of La Crosse County’s Energy Assistance Program, said people who run out of fuel or have their furnace break should call their local program immediately instead of trying to rely on unsafe heating sources.

“People whose furnaces have gone out or they’re out of fuel, they’ve mentioned that they’ve been using their stove or oven or someone has told them to do that,” Miller said. “And we always tell them that is very unsafe, make sure you close it, do not use it. We do have space heaters available to people to use until they can get their furnaces working.”

In the last heating season, Miller said 3,300 households were eligible for more than $2.3 million dollars assistance in La Crosse County alone.

Energy assistance comes largely from the federal government, but also from state government and a surcharge on utility bills.

People need to sign up for assistance through the county they live in.

– John Davis and Hope Kirwan

Episode Credits

  • Hope Kirwan Host
  • John Davis Producer
  • Pat Boland Guest
  • Tom Mayne Guest
  • Tom Miller Guest