Published April 6, 2021
Back in December 2020, I wrote a blog about a program Xcel proposed to partially forgive unpaid utility bills of Minnesota customers who are among the farthest past-due on their bills. The “Payment Plan Credit Proposal” was one of several proposals Xcel made in the “Economic Recovery docket,” which the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) established to help accelerate review of proposed utility investments likely to help spur Minnesota’s economy in the wake of COVID-19.
In comments CUB filed in the Economic Recovery docket, we highlighted and supported Xcel’s Payment Plan Credit Proposal. In our view, the proposal exemplified the type of economic recovery initiatives that could immediately and directly help Minnesotans facing financial hardship as a result of the pandemic and the related economic downturn. We worked with Xcel and Energy CENTS Coalition to make a few improvements to the proposal and to set detailed reporting requirements so that we will be able to evaluate whether changes are needed as the program rolls out, and we recommended approval in further comments to the PUC.
We were grateful to see the PUC recently approve the Payment Plan Credit Proposal. Xcel will now devote $17.5 million of its own money to fund the program. Once implemented, qualifying residential customers who owe balances between $1,000 and $4,000 and establish a payment plan with Xcel will be eligible to receive a 75 percent bill credit toward their overdue balance. Twenty-five percent of that credit will be provided upfront, and the remaining 50 percent will be applied in equal, monthly bill credits over a period of up to 11 months, so long as the customer makes on-time payments on a payment plan.
So what does this mean for you?
Xcel is working to implement the program now, and we will share an update on this blog and CUB’s Facebook and Twitter profiles when it has launched. Qualifying customers can expect to hear from Xcel directly.
If you could use help with your energy bills, you should also check whether you are eligible for energy assistance, also known as LIHEAP. Call 1- 800-657-3710, and press 1, or go online: Commerce Department Energy Assistance Program.
Xcel customers who receive Energy Assistance can also get reduced electric and natural gas rates and bills that are guaranteed to never exceed a certain percentage of income through Xcel’s PowerOn and Gas Affordability Programs. Under these programs, too, Xcel will forgive overdue bill amounts — often even at higher amounts than a customer would receive through the new Payment Plan Credit Program. Unlike the new program, these options are available today and can continue to provide a discount on bills in the years to come. If you have received Energy Assistance, contact the Energy CENTS Coalition at 651-774-9010 or 888-774-9070, or visit their website. CenterPoint Energy also has a Gas Affordability Program for their natural gas customers.
Finally, if you need assistance better understanding these programs, or if you would like someone to go over a utility bill with you, CUB is here to help. You can join us at an upcoming bill clinic or reach out to us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or (651) 300-4701.
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