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Cold Weather Information

Cold Weather Rule

Cold Weather RuleMN Statute 216B.097

Protections

A municipal utility or a cooperative electric association must not disconnect and must reconnect the utility service of a residential customer during the period between October 15 and April 15 if the disconnection affects the primary heat source and the customer meets the eligibility criteria below.

Customer Eligibility

To be eligible for protection from residential utility service shutoff, a customer must meet the following criteria and requirements:

  1. The household income of the customer is at or below 50 percent of the state median household income.
    1. A customer is deemed to meet the income requirements if the customer receives any form of public assistance – including energy assistance – that uses an income eligibility threshold set at or below 50 percent of the state median household income.  The utility may:
      1. obtain verification of income from the local energy assistance provider, if available, or
      2. require income information from the customer on forms provided by the utility and compare it to the current state median household income figure available on the at the website of the Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources.
  1. The customer enters into and makes reasonably timely payments under a payment agreement that considers the financial resources of the household.

Utility Duties

Between August 15 and October 15 each year, all utilities must notify all residential customers of the Cold Weather Rule protections.

All utilities must provide customers seeking protection with referrals to energy assistance, weatherization, conservation, or other programs likely to reduce the customer’s energy bills.

Customer Notification Before Disconnection

Before disconnecting service to a residential customer during the period between October 15 and April 15, a municipal utility or co-op must provide the customer with all of the following items:

  1. A notice of the proposed disconnection A statement explaining the customer’s rights and responsibilities
  2. A list of local energy assistance providers
  3. Forms on which to declare the inability to pay
  4. A statement explaining available time payment plans and other opportunities to secure continued utility service

Disconnection Restrictions

If a residential customer is to be involuntarily disconnected between October 15 and April 15, the disconnection may not occur:

  1. on a Friday, unless that day the customer declines to enter in to a payment agreement offered by the municipal utility or co-op via personal contact or telephone,
  2. on a weekend, holiday, or day before a holiday,
  3. when utility offices are closed, or
  4. after the close of business, unless a field representative of the utility who is authorized to enter into a payment agreement, accept payment, and continue service, offers a payment agreement to the customer.

Disconnection must not occur until at least 20 days after the disconnection notice (described above) has been mailed to the customer or 15 days after the notice has been personally delivered to the customer.

Non-Responsive Customer

If a customer does not respond to a disconnection notice, the customer must not be disconnected until the utility investigates whether the residential unit is actually occupied.

  1.  If the unit is found to be occupied, the utility must immediately inform the occupant of the provisions of the Cold Weather Rule.
  2. If the unit is unoccupied, the utility must give seven days written notice of the proposed disconnection to the local energy assistance provider before making a disconnection.

Customer Appeals

Under the Cold Weather Rule, if a customer appeals a notice of involuntary disconnection prior to disconnection, as provided by the utility’s established appeal procedure, the utility must not disconnect the customer until the appeal is resolved.

Service Limiters

Under the Cold Weather Rule, “disconnection” includes a service or load limiter or any device that limits or interrupts electric service in any way.

 

Inability to Pay Declaration Form

 

 

Common Cold Weather Rule Questions

Q:

Can my heat be shut off in the winter?

A:

YES, unless you take steps under the Cold Weather Rule (CWR) to protect yourself. You must contact Brainerd Public Utilities to apply for protection from having your heat/electricity shut off. This is true for all residential customers, including senior citizens and families with young children.

Q:

When is the Cold Weather Rule in effect?

A:

From October 15 through April 15 each year.

Q:

Are all utilities covered?

A:

All natural gas and electric utilities must follow some level of the CWR. 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 the CWR with your electric company.

Q:

What steps must utilities take before disconnecting my service?

A:

Before Brainerd Public Utilities may turn off your service during the winter months (October 15 through April 15), BPU must send you the following information:

  • A disconnection notice telling you the date you may be disconnected
  • Details on payment plans and how to avoid disconnection
  • A list of energy assistance and weatherization providers
  • No-cost and low-cost methods of conserving energy
  • A Cold Weather Rule application

Q:

What are the income guidelines?

A:

Income is the total household income from all persons living with you.  Household income does not include any amount received from energy assistance.  The total household income must be less than 50 percent of the state median income.  If you receive energy assistance you qualify for protection.

Q:

If my utilities are disconnected as of October 15, how can I get reconnected?

A:

  • Pay the outstanding balance, or
  • Call BPU and set up a mutually acceptable payment plan to pay all past due and current bills during the period covered by the payment plan

Q:

What sort of protection can I get before my heat is shut-off?

A:

There are several levels of protection from shut-off under the Rule.  If your heat is affected by a utility disconnection, you may apply for one of the protections listed below:

  • “Inability to Pay “(ITP) status for low income residential customers who set up a payment plan for the rest of the heating season.  Customers who are fully paid up or making timely payments under a payment plan as of October 15 qualify for the greatest protection. Customers who have fallen behind on their payments may also qualify for some protections.
  • “Payment Schedule” (PS) is for customers at any income level.  Customers must pay any past-due bills plus the current bills through next October 15 (unless you and the utility agree on a different date).  The payments don’t have to be the same each month.

Q:

How do I apply for the Cold Weather Rule?

A:

If you receive a disconnection notice from BPU, a Cold Weather Rule application will be included.  Fill out the form, mail it to BPU and set up a payment plan.  It is important for you to call BPU after you return the form to setup your payment plan.

Q:

What happens after I apply?

A:

If you make and keep a Cold Weather Rule payment plan, you’re protected from disconnection.

  • If you and the utility cannot agree on a payment plan, you have ten days to appeal to the Public Utilities Commission.
  • The Commission will help you set up a payment plan.
  • Your service will stay on during the appeal process.

Q:

How long can my payment plan extend?

A:

Most payment plans under the CWR last until April 15 unless you make other arrangements with the BPU.

Q:

What happens to my utility service after April 15?

A:

As long as you make your agreed-upon payments, you will have service. If you do not keep your payment plan and you have a past-due balance on April 15, your service could be shut off.

Q:

What happens if I can’t make my payments as arranged?

A:

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

Q:

Can my electricity be shut off if I heat with propane or fuel oil?

A:

If you are eligible for protection under the rule, and you are making reasonably timely payments under a payment arrangement, your electricity cannot be shut off if it affects your heat. For example, if you use electricity to operate the controls on your oil system, your electricity cannot be shut off if you keep your payment plan. In this case, the CWR covers only your electric service. The CWR does not cover propane and fuel oil companies.

Q:

I am a renter and pay my own utility bill. Am I covered?

A:

Yes. If the utility service affects the primary heat source of your residence.

Q:

What if I need help reading or understanding notices from my utility?

A:

The CWR has a “Third Party Notice” option.

  • If you would like help applying for the CWR, you may arrange for another person to get a copy of any disconnection notices or other important information, at the same time you receive it.
  • This may be a friend, family member, or anyone who is willing to help you understand the notices or set up a CWR payment plan.

Q:

Does the person who gets my Third Party Notices have to pay my bill if I don’t?

A:

No. The person who receives the Third Party Notices is not responsible for paying your bill. This person is only agreeing to help you with notices from your utility.

Q:

I need help paying my bill. Who do I call?

A:

The following agencies may also be able to help you pay your utility bill: