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CUB’s outreach team helps Minnesotans maintain crucial utility service during the COVID-19 crisis

Published October 6, 2020

Happy fall everyone! As we head into October and Energy Awareness Month, we thought it was good timing to share what our outreach team has been doing in the last several months. 

Like many organizations, the nature of CUB’s work has been impacted by COVID-19. Since mid-March, our whole organization has been working remotely. Typically, our Outreach Team is out and about giving presentations, meeting with consumers, and attending community events. We really miss our in-person interactions with people across the state. As much as we miss interacting in person, going remote has provided some important opportunities for us to explore techniques that can help us reach more people more easily.

When Minnesota’s COVID-19 crisis became clear in March, CUB’s outreach team immediately shifted to focus primarily on ensuring that all Minnesotans have crucial utility service during the pandemic. We began using Facebook to reach consumers across the state to provide one-on-one advice to people with past-due bills who are at risk of disconnection, and we have helped over 200 individuals in the last 6 months, via phone, email, and Facebook Messenger. We are working hard to connect these consumers with the resources that they need and to make sure they understand their rights and responsibilities when it comes to shutoffs. (Here is an overview of resources). CUB serves all of Minnesota, and, as you know, it is a big area to cover. Our new remote services have made it easy to connect with consumers all over the state.

Our conversations with these people are also informing CUB’s policy advocacy for greater consumer protections and assistance where it is needed most. Our work with partners at the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) led to a statewide moratorium on shutoffs for regulated utilities. We are now working with the PUC, Department of Commerce, and utilities themselves to address critical needs of consumers of unregulated cooperative and municipal utilities.

Energy bill consultations remain an important part of our work, and we are continuing to offer money-saving consultations through utility bill clinics held remotely. We give free consultations over the phone or via video conference, depending on the consumer’s preference. An appointment takes about 30 minutes, and CUB staff follows up with an email summarizing all the suggestions to reduce energy use and save money. The follow up email contains links to the rebates, programs, and other topics discussed during the consultation. You can sign up for an upcoming clinic, or contact me to find a time that works for you. 

We are also continuing to provide educational presentations on a variety of topics via videoconference. As before, we work closely with host organizations to develop content that is most helpful to their audiences. We offer educational events for cities, workplaces, community organizations, and any group of people interested in learning more about energy topics. In most of these events, we currently share COVID-19 specific information to help those who are affected economically and have concerns about their energy bills. 

The one thing we can’t do right now, or replace with a remote option, is to attend community events, and we miss that. We look forward to the time when we can put up our table at an expo and use our tent for outdoor events again! Fingers crossed for 2021.  If you are interested in hosting an online event, have concerns about your bills, or want to schedule a bill consultation, please reach out — we’re here to help. You can contact me directly at carmenc@cubminnesota.org or call 651-300-4701 ext. 2.

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Author: Carmen Carruthers

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