Avoiding Utility Disconnection
Are you falling behind on your electric or natural gas bills? Worried about getting shut off? Minnesota has consumer protections to help you keep your service on and catch up on your overdue bills. Here are steps you can take to protect yourself and options to help stay on top of your bills.
Call your utility
The first thing to do is to call your utility. Explain the situation to them, and ask to arrange a payment plan that works for your own personal financial circumstances in order to get caught back up on your bills over time.
If your financial circumstances change, call them again and ask to modify the payment plan.
If you have been financially affected by COVID-19, be sure to tell them. It can sometimes open up some extra flexibility.
Do not assume that the utility will not shut you off if you are not in touch. This is true in all seasons, including in winter when the Cold Weather Rule applies.
Cold Weather Rule
If you are having trouble keeping up with your winter heating bills, contact your electric or natural gas company to sign up for a Cold Weather Rule payment plan. It’s a common misconception that your utilities cannot be shut off during the winter.
Actually, a utility CAN shut off service unless you take action. Under Minnesota’s Cold Weather Rule, you must call your utility and work out a payment arrangement, then keep up on-time payments on that plan.
The Cold Weather Rule applies between October 15 and April 15. The utility is required by law to arrange a plan that considers your household’s financial circumstances and any extenuating circumstances that you face. If you have trouble arranging an acceptable payment plan with your utility, contact the Public Utilities Commission Consumer Affairs Office for assistance at 800-657-3782 or or firstname.lastname@example.org.
That said, the Cold Weather Rule is the legal minimum that a utility must meet. Many are willing to do much more to work with customers to prevent you from getting shut off.
There are a number of options available that provide assistance to people to pay their energy bills. Remember we all pay into these programs through our taxes or our utility rates, so don’t hesitate to take advantage of them when you need it.
Energy Assistance Program
Energy Assistance helps to pay for home energy costs or furnace repairs for income-qualified households.
Applications are accepted from October 1 through May 31, on a first-come-first-served basis. Any household that makes at or below 50 percent of the state median income can apply for energy assistance, based on their income over the last three months. Find out details and how to apply from the State of Minnesota.
Use CUB’s energy assistance finder to help find your service provider by county or tribal government.
In addition to Energy Assistance, organizations such as the Salvation Army, local houses of worship, county assistance, community social service agencies, and student services often have resources to help people who need immediate assistance with energy bills.
Lower your energy costs
Electricity and gas affordability programs
Some utilities provide discounted rates to households that qualify based on income. For example, Xcel Energy has programs called PowerOn and Gas Affordability, CenterPoint Energy has a Gas Affordability Program, and Minnesota Power has a program called CARE. Other utilities run their own programs.
Each utility’s program is different, so contact your utility to find out if you qualify, what the program offers, and how to apply.
Medical affordability and protection programs
If you have special medical needs, you may qualify for special protections from shutoff, reduced energy rates, and/or forgiveness of a portion of your past-due bills. See more details at your utility’s link below, and contact your utility to apply. Not all utilities have information about these protections on their websites, so don’t hesitate to contact your utility even if you don’t see them on the list below.
Tax-free heating fuel
Heating fuel is not taxed in Minnesota. If you use natural gas or electricity for the primary heating source of your home, there should be no tax on your bill between November and April.
If you see a “Sales Tax” line, call your utility and let them know that your service should be tax-exempt. This will cut your winter bills by at least 6.8 percent — and by nearly 9 percent in some places.
If your home uses propane, fuel oil or wood, it is tax-exempt all year round.
The cheapest energy is the energy you don’t use, and making energy efficiency improvements to your home can really pay off.
Most utilities offer free products like low-flow shower heads and water heater blankets, rebates on efficient light bulbs and appliances, and free or discounted energy audits to find cost-effective options for your home.
For households that qualify for Energy Assistance, the Weatherization program is available to help you permanently reduce your bills by as much as 30 percent. Weatherization can add insulation in walls and attics; seal air leaks; and replace your furnace, boiler, or water heater.
Again, this is available to any household whose income is below 50 percent of the state median and like Energy Assistance, funding is limited. To find out more and apply for Weatherization, contact the service provider for your area.
Complaints? Want help?
Do you have a complaint about your utility? The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission has a Consumer Affairs Office dedicated to helping people with questions and complaints: call 651-296-0406 or 800-657-3782 or email email@example.com.
If you have questions about your bills or your options, or just want someone to take a look and see how you could be saving money, contact us at any time. There is never any charge for our services. You can call us at 651-300-4701 or toll-free at 844-646-6282 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.