Consumers Energy Offers Information to Manage Bills, Stay Safe This Winter Heating Season

  Consumers Energy Offers Information to Manage Bills, Stay Safe This Winter                                 Heating Season  PR Newswire  JACKSON, Mich., Jan. 16, 2014  JACKSON, Mich., Jan. 16, 2014 /PRNewswire/ --With Michigan feeling the impact of this cold winter, Consumers Energy is continuing to work to keep heating costs low. It also is offering information and assistance to help the public this heating season.  "Mother Nature isn't going easy on Michigan this winter, but the homeowners and business owners we serve should know we are looking out for them," said Mary Palkovich, Consumers Energy's vice president of energy delivery. "Even with increased energy usage, people still should be receiving smaller natural gas bills this winter than five years ago."  Consumers Energy continues to offer the lowest price of any major natural gas provider in Michigan, which is largely made possible by the third-largest natural gas storage system in the U.S. The company stores gas in 15 underground fields that cover about 99,000 acres throughout the state.  Consumers Energy offers the following suggestions to manage your monthly heating bill:    oTake free and low-cost steps to reduce heating costs. Homeowners should     have their furnace inspected each year to make sure it's running     efficiently and to replace the furnace filter often. Customers can also     see savings of up to 20 percent by utilizing a programmable thermostat.     Learn more at www.ConsumersEnergy.com/save.   oSign up for Consumers Energy's Budget Plan, which spreads out annual     energy costs into equal monthly payments. For more information, go to     www.ConsumersEnergy.com/budgetplan.   oKnow that recent winter storms and cold weather is leading to an increase     in estimated meter reads. Estimates are based on past energy usage and     recent weather data. If you receive a statement based on an estimated     reading, your actual usage will be reconciled with the next actual meter     reading. If you have questions, call 1-800-477-5050.   oAssistance is available to help people pay bills. The CARE program is     available based on income, from $17,235 for an individual up to $59,445     for a household of eight. People can enroll in CARE through February by     contacting one of three partner agencies: The Heat and Warmth Fund     (877-646-2818), The Salvation Army (sawmni.org/cecare) or TrueNorth     Community Services (800-379-0221).  "We appreciate that this cold winter can lead to increased energy usage to keep homes and businesses warm. We also want the public to know that help is available for those who need it," Palkovich said.  Last, the public should keep safety in mind. People are asked to inspect gas or electric meters to determine if icicles or snow have formed above or around meters, and undertake careful removal by hand.  Keeping meters free of ice, snow and icicle buildup can help prevent service interruptions. Mobile home customers are advised to safely clear snow away from rooftop chimneys, preferably by using a snow rake so that furnaces can continue to operate properly.  Consumers Energy, Michigan's largest utility, is the principal subsidiary of CMS Energy (NYSE: CMS), providing natural gas and electricity to 6.6 million of the state's 10 million residents in all 68 Lower Peninsula counties.  Safety tips Consumers Energy also offers safety tips:    oIn the event of a service interruption, never use a cooking stove, oven or     gas-fired space heater to heat a home because they can cause carbon     monoxide poisoning.   oCarbon monoxide (CO) is a toxic gas that is colorless, odorless, tasteless     and can be produced when appliances aren't operating or vented properly.     The best defense against CO poisoning is to install an alarm.   oKeep supplemental heaters away from curtains, bedspreads or anything     flammable. Unplug heaters before going to bed or leaving home.   oKeep natural gas appliance and high efficiency furnace air intake valves     and exhaust pipes free of snow and ice by carefully removing it by hand.  For more information about Consumers Energy, visit us at www.ConsumersEnergy.com or join us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/consumersenergymichigan.  SOURCE Consumers Energy  Website: http://www.consumersenergy.com Contact: Brian Wheeler, 517-788-2394, or Terry DeDoes, 517-374-2159