Posted at: 01/17/2013 5:37 PM
Updated at: 01/17/2013 6:13 PM
By: Dan Conradt
(ABC 6 News) -- We're already paying higher energy bills this winter than we did last year. With a blast of cold on the way, you can expect those bills to rise even more.
And if you think you might need help paying those bills, now might be the time to ask for it.
"Usage is increasing with space heaters and plugging in vehicles as it's getting colder," said Deb Kolling at Freeborn Mower Cooperative Services in Albert Lea.
It's the way cause and effect works in a Minnesota winter: "We are seeing bills a lot higher," Kolling said.
And with a cold blast of winter approaching, it might be just the tip of the iceberg.
"When it gets colder and you have some of the arctic temperatures we definitely do see the bills increase," Kolling told us.
Compared to last year, which was a mild winter, "We could potentially see 20 to 25 percent higher utility bills," said Austin Utilities manager Mark Nibaur.
It's the kind of increase many household budgets won't be able to absorb.
"And if you see potentially that you could be having problems, get ahold of us" Mark Nibaur said.
"We do take a look at the last three months of their income and base our programs on that,” said Kolling. “We're not going to try to set up a payment arrangement we know you're never going to be able to keep."
“So definitely customers need to be thinking about doing some things right now," Nibaur added.
“Some of the payment plans are only available if SEMCAC is applied for and granted," Kolling said.
"There's dollars available and as they tell us and tell their customers, you need to contact them to apply," said Nibaur.
"The biggest thing to stress” Kolling added, “is if you make a payment arrangement, definitely keep that payment arrangement."
That’s because Minnesota's "cold weather rule" doesn't guarantee your utilities won't be turned off -- even in the cold.
"It does allow you some protection, but only if you exercise your rights and responsibilities," Kolling explained.
"Sometimes our customers are somewhat misled by that," Nibaur said.
And with arctic cold on the way, now might be the time to make arrangements to keep those bills from becoming overwhelming.
"We'll see the spike, no doubt about it,” said Austin Utilities’ Nibaur. “Especially going into the work week as industry and business come back to work we'll see a good spike
Utility officials we talked to said they’ve seen a fairly normal number of customers making payment plans, but they expect that number to increase with cold weather on the way.