DULUTH, MN-- With a cold front, many Northlanders may see an increase in their heating bills this winter.
Meanwhile, the continuing pandemic and its financial impacts could spell trouble for those already behind on their payments.
"What we don't want to have happened is someone gets into this insurmountable hole they can't come out of. The springtime comes around or there is a threat of getting shut off," said Courtney Gallo Utility Operations Paralegal for the city.
Duluth City officials say in January, Comfort Systems was reporting customers were behind a total of $820,000 on their heating bills.
While they say this number is "exceptionally high", it's an improvement compared to the start of the pandemic.
In July 2020, customers were behind $978,000 in payments.
They hope this means people are taking advantage of the help available.
"Making sure people are applying for fuel assistance through AEO, crisis funds from the county, if you're a veteran you can seek help from the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans," adds Gallo.
Other resources like Ecolibrium3, a nonprofit working on energy efficiency and sustainability with low-income households say they are seeing more families needing help, too.
"Energy poverty has traditionally been a challenge in our community because of the cold climate and the housing stock we have," said CEO Jodi Slick. "So, what we've seen under the pandemic is just an exacerbation of that."
Both the city of Duluth and local organizations strongly encourage getting on a payment plan through the city's credit department for your heating bills.
"Please call us, call us and make a payment plan. We want to work with you, we want you to dig out of this," said Gallo.
They're hoping people take this advice, as comfort systems leaders say February's late payments are increasing each billing cycle.
Other recommendations they have are getting your furnace or heating system serviced and cleaned yearly as it will help you get the most use out of it.
Lake Country Power has also seen an increase in past-due accounts during the pandemic.
Lake Country Power officials are encouraging members who may be having difficulty paying their electric bill to apply for energy assistance even if they have been declined in previous years.
They add the Cold Weather Rule is also in effect for Minnesotans who may qualify until April 15.
For more information, click here.
For information on Lake Country Power energy assistance, click here:
For those interested in Ecolibrium3's resources, click here:
For the City of Duluth's energy assistance programs and payment plan options, click here.