With utility costs on the rise, act now to avoid losing heat, electricity this winter

Automatic thermostat
Minnesota's cold weather rule takes effect soon. If you need assistance, go to mn.gov/home
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News file photo

The state’s cold weather rule takes effect this weekend, but Minnesotans need to take action now to avoid their utilities from being disconnected. 

The rule prevents utilities from shutting off the natural gas or electricity of residential customers who don’t pay their bills from Oct. 1 through April 30.

But its not an automatic protection. Customers must contact their utility and set up a payment plan to avoid disconnection.

“We think it’s really important that Minnesotans take actions now to keep their homes safe and warm, and to keep the lights and the heat on,” said Michael Schmitz, director of energy assistance programs at the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

If you can’t agree on a payment plan with your utility, you can contact the Public Utilities Commission’s consumer affairs office, Schmitz said.

With utility costs up in the last couple of years, more people have fallen behind on paying their utility bills. 

At the same time, the amount of federal funding the state receives for energy assistance likely will be the same or less as last year, Schmitz said. 

The program pays a portion of energy bills for both renters and homeowners. Schmitz says a family of four can earn up to $62,800 a year and still qualify. 

He urged both homeowners and renters who are concerned about paying their energy bills this summer to apply now for assistance by going to mn.gov/home.

The program also offers help with weatherizing your home to help reduce energy costs.

People also can take steps to make their home more energy efficient and reduce their utility bills. These include covering windows with clear plastic film, using a programmable thermostat to turn down your furnace at night and redirecting ceiling fans to circulate warm air down from the ceiling.