Help with Bills for Farmhouses (part 2)
Published November 25, 2020; Updated June 17, 2021 to reflect new Cold Weather Rule dates.
Hello! Thank you for watching this brief segment. My name is Joel Haskard and I am with the Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs). This segment is a joint effort between the CERTS, the Minnesota Farmers Union, and the Citizens Utility Board of Minnesota.
This segment continues from our Help with Bills Part I. In this second segment we will cover some help topics including protections from bill shut offs and strategies to reduce your energy bills.
In addition to assistance paying for bills that was covered in Part I, it’s important to be familiar with other protections that can help you keep your utilities on even if you are struggling to pay the bills. We will cover three types of protections including the Cold Weather Rule, Military Personnel Protection, and Medical Device Protection. Establishing a payment plan with your utility is a critical step in maintaining these protections.
The 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 or “CWR” 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 1 and April 30. 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.
When a member of a household gets called up for military service, it can cause financial strain. State Statute forbids a utility to disconnect the utility service of a residential customer if a member of the household has been issued orders into active duty if the household creates a payment plan with the utility provider.
If you have medical equipment that is needed to keep you or a household member alive, your household can qualify for medical device protection with your utility. In order to enact this protection, you must provide your utility provider with a doctor’s note and ask your provider if they have any paperwork to apply for the protection. Once you have notified your utility, you and your utility must agree to a payment plan and stick with it.
One of common themes for utility bill protection has been setting up payment plans with the utilities. This is a critical component of preventing a shut off. State law requires utilities to make payment arrangements with each customer that take into account the financial circumstances and any extenuating circumstances of their individual household. If you are having trouble arranging a reasonable payment plan with your utility, we encourage you to contact the Public Utilities Commission Consumer Affairs Office.
Getting on a budget bill plan, whether you are struggling with your bills or not, can help households manage their budget. Many utilities will create an average monthly bill which evens out the seasonal highs and lows and makes your bills predictable. Every so many months, the utility will adjust the monthly average to reflect your actual expenses. If this might be helpful for you, contact your utility to see if they offer a budget billing plan.
Other Money Saving Opportunities
Did you know that the primary fuel used to heat your home from November-April is tax free? So, if you heat with electricity, you should see no taxes on your electricity bill. Likewise, natural gas and heating fuel are also tax free for the months of November through April. Check your bills and make sure you’re not being taxed during those months and contact your utility if you are.
Demand Control and Off-Peak Savings
Many electric utilities offer special programs to reduce the cost of heating your home and for water heating. Many of these programs are part of demand control systems where, as a customer, you receive a discount in exchange for the utility’s ability to have some control over your electricity use. When there is a high demand for electricity on the grid, utilities must spend more money to purchase electricity for their customers. Therefore, if they can reduce demand in their service area the utility can save money and keep their costs down. Visit your utility’s website or give them a call to learn more about these options and see if they would be a good fit.
On behalf of CERTS, Minnesota Farmers Union and the Citizens Utility Board, thank you for tuning in for this second segment on Help with Your Bills! Look for additional segments on CUB’s YouTube page.