The state’s Cold Weather Rule, which offers protection to Minnesotans who fall behind on their heating bills, begins Wednesday Oct 15, 2008, but local utilities can disconnect the heat or electricity of customers who don’t follow all the rules, as happened last winter.
Customers behind on their bills must contact their utility to set up a payment plan – and stick to it – or they can be shut off. Some may be eligible for federal heating assistance grants. They also may have their monthly bills capped at no more than 10 percent of their household income.
If customers have trouble reaching an agreement with their utility, the Cold Weather Rule lets customers ask the state Public Utilities Commission to mediate payment agreements, said Catherine Fair, director of energy assistance for the Community Action Partnership of Ramsey and Washington Counties.
Minnesota is getting $144.5 million in federal heating assistance funding this year – nearly double its usual allotment. State officials hope the extra money will allow more people to get help.
Houston-based CenterPoint, the state’s largest natural gas provider with nearly 790,000 customers – most of them in Minneapolis and the west metro – estimates that it has had 15,000 disconnections to date this year and 140,000 accounts currently past due, owing $40 million. Last winter, the utility surprised thousands of past-due customers when it began disconnecting them before the end of the heating season on April 15.
Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy, which serves St. Paul and many east-metro communities with gas and electricity service, will disconnect the electricity of customers with delinquent bills, but not their natural gas, said Pat Boland, the utility’s manager of credit policy and compliance. The city of St. Paul, however, will not allow people to live in a house without electricity for safety reasons.
As of Oct. 4, Xcel had 26,934 disconnections this year, compared with 26,147 disconnections all last year.
At the end of August, the last date for which it has figures, Xcel was owed $26.3 million in payments that were more than a month late, up from $25.9 million for the same period last year.
BEHIND ON YOUR BILL?
CenterPoint Energy: Call 612-372-4680or 1-800-729-6164to make a payment or payment arrangement.
Xcel Energy: 24-hour residential customer service line 1-800-895-4999.
Statewide Energy Assistance Hotline: 1-800-657-3710
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