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MichCon, Agencies Have Programs to Prevent Gas Shutoffs

Utility warns of danger of illegal hookups
PRNewswire
DETROIT
(:DTE)

DETROIT, Feb. 27 /PRNewswire/ -- Cold weather and an economic downturn have many people struggling to pay their heating bills this winter. DTE Energy cautions anyone having difficulty paying that tampering with their natural gas service is a dangerous practice that's also illegal.

Hooking gas lines to homes in a makeshift manner can result in fires, explosions, injuries and even fatalities.

"We want to make sure our customers know we are committed to assisting them to keep their homes warm this winter," said Joyce Hayes-Giles, DTE Energy senior vice president, Customer Service. "We can enroll customers in one of our many payment assistance programs or help customers find financial assistance. But tampering with natural gas service is not the answer."

If you suspect utility tampering, call (800) 441-6698. Reports can be made anonymously and are kept confidential.

Hayes-Giles also said customers should contact MichCon as soon as they think they may have a problem paying their utility bills this winter.

DTE Energy's BudgetWise Billing program can help customers better manage their heating costs by averaging monthly energy payments throughout the year. By knowing what to expect to pay each month for gas and electricity, customers can budget without the impact of seasonal ups and downs of energy costs.

DTE Energy also has a team of specialists who can assist low-income customers by providing individual payment plans, agency referrals and follow up. Customers who anticipate having trouble paying their energy bills this winter are encouraged to contact DTE Energy at (800) 545-8046.

The company also has partnered with churches and agencies to help customers this winter.

A new program for Detroit residents is the Community Energy Solutions Project, which involves four churches - Second Ebenezer, St. Cecilia, New Galilee and Fellowship Chapel. The churches serve as centers to provide customers with information about energy efficiency and conservation.

A DTE Energy case manager, a representative from The Heat and Warmth Fund (THAW), a credit and budget counselor, and a tax preparer will be at each church to provide assistance.

  Hours for centers are:
  -- New Galilee - 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.
  -- Fellowship Chapel - 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays,
     starting in March.
  -- Second Ebenezer - 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
     Wednesdays.
  -- St. Cecilia - 3:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Service is by appointment only and no bill payments are accepted at the centers. To schedule an appointment, call toll-free (866) 554-2653.

Another program, the Osborn Energy Savers Initiative, is a collaboration of DTE Energy, the Skillman Foundation Good Neighborhoods Initiative and THAW. The program is designed to promote energy conservation and cost savings through a series of workshops and home energy consultations.

Participants receive products to weatherize their homes, home energy audits, credit on their DTE Energy bill and access to energy education resources. More than 400 people and 100 households in the Osborn Community on Detroit's eastside already have reduced their energy usage by participating in the program. The Osborn community is bounded by Six Mile to Eight Mile roads and Van Dyke to Gratiot.

Workshops are conducted for residents in the Osborn neighborhood Saturdays through April 5. To enroll or for more information, Osborn residents can call (313) 893-9470 or e-mail osborn_energy_savers@dteenergy.com.

In addition, DTE Energy offers the following programs to qualified low- income and senior customers:

Winter Protection Plan

The Winter Protection Plan protects qualified seniors and low-income customers from service shut-off due to non-payment until March 31. While enrolled in this program, customers must pay a portion of their estimated annual bill, plus regular payments on any past due bills. Customers wishing to enroll in this program must meet eligibility requirements. For more information customers can call (800) 477-4747.

Shut-Off Protection Plan

The Shut-Off Protection Plan provides year-round protection from shut-off and is available to all residential customers regardless of income. Enrollment requires an initial down payment of 10 percent of a customer's total bill. A monthly budget plan then spreads the customer's future bills and remaining balance into 12 equal monthly payments. More information is available by calling (800) 477-4747.

Double Notice Protection

An additional safeguard provided by MichCon and Detroit Edison is the Double Notice Protection plan. Customers may identify a friend or relative to receive a copy of any overdue or shut-off notice. The backup helps protect against service shut-off in the event that a customer is ill, out of town or otherwise unable to receive utility shut-off notices.

Medical Emergencies

If a medical emergency exists, the utilities will not shut off service for up to 21 days if customers obtain verification from their doctor or a public health agency.

Active Military Duty

Customers called to full-time active military service during a time of declared national or state emergency or war may apply for shut-off protection for up to 90 days and may request extensions of this protection by re- applying.

  More information is available by calling (800) 477-4747.

  Home Heating Credit E-filing

Eligible customers may receive funds from the state of Michigan to apply toward their heating bill. To qualify, a customer must meet the Home Heating Credit income guidelines. DTE Energy will help customers file for the credit until Sept. 26, 2008. For assistance, call (800) 411-4348.

State Emergency Relief Program and Energy Direct

Eligible low-income households may receive help paying energy bills year round through the Department of Human Services (DHS). Customers currently receiving assistance from DHS - and whose energy service is subject to shut- off - may automatically qualify for the Energy Direct program. This program protects against service shut-off and places the account on a budget plan. For more information, customers should call their local DHS office or the Energy Assistance Hotline at (800) 292-5650.

  Other programs available to DTE Energy customers are:

  2-1-1

2-1-1 is an easy to remember telephone number that connects callers to information about critical health and human services available in their community.

Low-Income Weatherization

Assistance with home weatherization may be available to those who meet eligibility guidelines through the Community Action Agency. To apply, customers need to contact their local Community Action Agency or the United Way.

Earned Income Credit

This credit is available based on the income level and number of qualifying child dependents. To be eligible for this credit, customers must file a federal income tax return with Schedule EIC and apply for the credit through the Internal Revenue Service.

THAW

When qualified low-income customers have exhausted other public and private community resources, THAW, a nonprofit organization offering energy payment assistance, may provide last-resort energy assistance. For assistance, call (800) 866-THAW (8429).

Salvation Army

DTE Energy and the Salvation Army have partnered to assist customers with high arrears. Customers can call 2-1-1 or (800) 552-1183 for eligibility guidelines and locations.

GreenPath Credit Counseling

DTE Energy works with this non-profit consumer credit counseling service to help customers obtain a budget plan that will help them manage their money. Call toll-free, (888) 235-1003.

For more information on these programs as well as home energy-saving tips, visit http://my.dteenergy.com/paymentOptions/assistance.html

SOURCE: MichCon

CONTACT: Scott Simons, +1-313-235-8808, or Lorie Kessler,
+1-313-235-8807, both of MichCon

Web site: http://www.dteenergy.com/
http://my.dteenergy.com/paymentOptions/assistance.html