GCFP In the News
Affordable heat help available in Gunnison
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GV-HEAT gears up for another winter of high demand
As fall descends into the Gunnison Valley and heaters roar to life, some locals may need extra help with heating costs or infrastructure. For those looking at a long winter that may bring exorbitant heating costs, the Gunnison Valley Home Energy Advancement Team (GV-HEAT) might offer some respite.
“The demand is growing even more and the need is there,” said program coordinator Gesa Michel. “Now with this outreach campaign, we’re trying to reach more people to get the word out and create the confidence that these programs can actually help.”
Last year, applications soared for the Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP), which reduces the price of a heating bill through a direct payment to the utility. GV-HEAT staff also had to create a waitlist for another state-funded energy program for the first time ever. Gunnison County Commissioners gave the program a one-time payment of $11,000 to help meet demand.
This year, GV-HEAT received a $40,000 grant from Energy Outreach Colorado for community engagement — the first time ever that the program has specifically received money for outreach. The department hired Western Colorado University Masters in Environmental Management students Alex Wilson; he took the project on as his capstone thesis. Other students at Western’s Rady School of Computer Science and Engineering are learning to install electric air source heat pumps in some of the income-qualified homes managed by GV-HEAT.
“The biggest issue we’ve had in the past is probably the ease of applying,” Wilson said. Some people may interpret the process to be difficult, depending on what program it is. In the past, they simply did not want to reach out, possibly out of embarrassment.”
His job is to spread the word about the Colorado Affordable Residential Energy (CARE) program, which provides free energy assessments and retrofits to income-qualified households. He is also tasked with reminding valley residents that the ecosystem of heat assistance available is vast. The team is working with Mountain Roots Food Project and the Gunnison Country Food Pantry to cross-pollinate — spreading the word about heat assistance to those who may come in for food help. So far this year, GV-HEAT has assisted 22 homes through the CARE program, and is looking to serve another 15 homes before the year ends.
A number of these heat assistance programs are easier to apply for now than they were a decade ago, Wilson said. Some don’t require an applicant to provide a social security number, a measure which opens the door for immigrants to participate. Qualification has been streamlined so that people who qualify for certain social services, like SNAP or Medicaid, automatically qualify for some heat programs.
During Welcoming Week, a collaboration between the City of Gunnison and the Hispanic Affairs Project, GV-HEAT held a roundtable conversation with a panel of former heat assistance participants. The conversation, conducted almost entirely in Spanish, spurred a significant number of applicants, said the City of Gunnison’s community liaison Ricardo Esqueda. Esqueda helped facilitate the event.
“It is a really great program, and I think it might be underutilized,” Esqueda said. “But once people hear those stories of ‘they were able to get me a new fridge, they were able to get insulation in my home and they got me sealants,’ people realize the benefits.”
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(Abby Harrison can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)