ST. PAUL, Minn. (FOX 9) - In 2022, it was a record-setting year for the Community Action Partnership of Hennepin County, which helps low-income residents with utility bills. But this year is on pace to top that.
"Last year, we got over 27,000 applications and this year, we are on track to eclipse that," said Director of Energy Assistance Tammy Stauffer.
As cold air starts to settle over Minnesota, Stauffer says proposed utility rate hikes would impact their clients in a big way.
"(It) would be absolutely devastating to our households that have a hard time paying the bills currently to be asked to pay an additional amount," said Stauffer.
On Wednesday, Xcel Energy and CenterPoint, the state's largest natural gas providers, asked regulators for a 9% rate hike to cover inflation and infrastructure demands.
This would translate to approximately an additional $6 per month for CenterPoint customers and $7 for Xcel Energy customers in 2024. This doesn't necessarily mean your bill will go up because natural gas is a commodity and fluctuates in price. Both companies claim natural gas costs are projected to be lower this year if we have normal winter weather.
Still, Stauffer says these annual rate hikes hit those who can't afford them the hardest.
"(The companies) come back the next year and they ask for an even bigger increase to make up for that and it's heartbreaking."
To apply for energy assistance through Community Action Partnership of Hennepin County and to check income requirements, click here.
CenterPoint issued a statement on the proposal on its website.
Xcel Energy sent FOX 9 the following statement on the proposal:
"Our natural gas proposal supports investments that will improve system reliability and resiliency, strengthen safety and inspection programs, and take steps to operate the cleanest possible natural gas system that includes more than 9,700 miles of underground infrastructure in Minnesota. We look forward to working with the PUC, stakeholders and our customers as they review our proposal in the coming months.
"Even with new interim rates taking effect on Jan. 1, 2024, with normal weather this winter, the average Minnesota residential customer is expected to see their monthly natural gas bills decrease about 15% compared to last winter. That is because this winter, wholesale natural gas prices are forecasted to be much lower than last winter, and we pass those savings on to customers.
"Natural gas is currently the most economic fuel for heating homes and businesses, and more than 63% of Minnesota households rely on natural gas for heating their homes and cooking their meals. If the PUC approves this proposal, our Minnesota residential customers’ natural gas rates will remain below the national average even as we enhance the safety, reliability and resiliency of our system."