Minnesota’s cold-weather rule expires Sunday

MARSHALL — April 15 means more than your tax returns are due. Utility payments must be caught up, as well.

Minnesota’s cold-weather heating rule expired on Sunday. This means that utility customers who are behind on their bills must set up payment plans in order to avoid being left without heat in their homes.

The state’s cold-weather rule is in effect each winter, from Oct. 15 through April 15, to protect citizens from having their heat shut off when temperatures drop. While the protection can help people avoid dangerous situations, Rep. Chris Swedzinski, R-Ghent, said it is the customer’s responsibility to communicate with their utility provider and set up a plan if necessary.

Financial assistance is available and companies are willing to work with people to set up a plan, but the customer really needs to stay engaged and should initiate contact,” Swedzinski said. “I also want to warn people that scammers are trying to take advantage of people by calling them on the phone and demanding payments be made immediately, often with a credit card. The best way to avoid that is by reaching out directly to your utility provider.”

Minnesota’s cold-weather rule lasts from Oct. 15 to April 15 each season. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission website (www.mn.gov/puc) includes the following information on shut-off protection and other resources that are available to Minnesotans.

The Cold Weather Rule (CWR) helps protect and reconnect your heat from Oct. 15 through April 15, the Minnesota Public Utilities (MPU) website says.

“CWR protection is for residential customers only,” MPU says.

All electric and natural gas companies must offer CWR protection. Different types of payment plans are available, depending on your household income and which electric or natural gas company you have.

“If you are having trouble keeping up with your winter heating bills, contact your electric or natural gas company to sign up for a CWR payment plan,” MPU said.

CWR protection ends on April 15. If you still owe on your bill on April 15, you may ask your electric or natural gas company to continue your payment plan.

Call your natural gas or electric company for more information on additional discounts, because if you don’t, your heat could be shut off — despite the continuing cold weather.

“You must make and keep a Cold Weather Rule payment plan with your natural gas or electric utility company to receive Cold Weather Rule (CWR) protection between Oct. 15 and April 15,” MPU said.

This is true for all residential customers, including senior citizens and families with young children. Payment plans can be established at any time during the CWR season.

If the payment plan is broken the natural gas or electric company is not required to offer additional arrangements.

“If you are unable to agree on a payment amount, you can request an appeal from your natural gas or electric company,” MPU said.

You can sign up by contacting your natural gas or electric company and request a CWR payment plan

Payment plans can be established at anytime during the CWR season. If the payment plan is broken the utility is not required to offer additional arrangements.

If you are unable to agree on a payment amount, you have the right to appeal with your natural gas or electric company.

Once you make and keep a CWR payment plan, the utility will turn on your heat. As long as you make your payments, you are protected until April 15.

If you and the utility cannot agree on a payment plan, you can request and appeal from your natural gas or electric company

“You have 10 days to submit your appeal to the Commission,” MPU said. “The Commission will help you set up a payment plan. Your service will stay on during the appeal process.”

However, this does not apply to all utilities. Delivered fuels such as fuel oil, propane and wood are not covered by the CWR.

If you need electricity to keep your heat on, you may apply for CWR protection with your electric company.

Before disconnecting service between Oct. 15 and April 15, the natural gas and electric companies must provide you with:

• Notice of disconnection

• Payment plan options to stop a disconnection

• Appeal rights if you and the utility cannot agree on a payment plan

• A list of local energy assistance and weatherization providers

• A list of no-cost and low-cost methods to conserve energy

• A Third Party Notice form

If you can’t make your payments, call your utility immediately to make a new CWR payment plan. If you do not make your payments, your service may be shut off.

If you rent and pay your own utility bills, and if the natural gas or electric service in your name affects your primary heat, you are eligible for CWR protection, MPU said.

Should you have trouble with utility bills and notices, fill out a Third Party Notice form and the utility will send copies to the person you choose so you don’t miss important dates. The Third Party is not responsible for paying any bills, MPU said.

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