SAINT PAUL — As the heating season kicks in, the Minnesota Department of Commerce and the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) encourage Minnesotans to contact their utilities now to learn more about the Cold Weather Rule that protects residential utility customers from having their heat shut off during the winter months.
The rule takes effect on October 15 and continues through April 15, 2017.
To prevent heating disconnection, customers must first contact their utility to establish and maintain a monthly payment plan. All electric and natural gas companies are required to offer Cold Weather Rule protection.
“The Cold Weather Rule and our Energy Assistance Program are here to provide an essential safety net to protect Minnesotans from losing heat during the coldest months of the year,” said Minnesota Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman. “No Minnesotan should be left out in the cold.”
Under the Cold Weather Rule, customers who have a combined household income at or below 50 percent of the state median income ($47,194 for a family of four) are not required to pay more than 10 percent of their household income toward current and past heating bills. Others are also eligible to arrange a Cold Weather Rule payment plan.
Minnesotans who need to reconnect for winter should contact their utility now to take advantage of the payment options. The Cold Weather Rule is administered by the PUC.
“The Cold Weather Rule is a safeguard for the most vulnerable Minnesotans during our challenging winters,” said PUC Chair Beverly Jones Heydinger. “It ensures that households in need are safe, warm and healthy. By working out a payment plan with their utility, Minnesota families with financial challenges can still keep their heat on.”
Minnesota consumers using delivered fuels such as fuel oil, propane or wood to heat their homes are not covered by the Cold Weather Rule. However, they are encouraged to contact the companies that serve them to discuss payment options if they are concerned about their ability to pay for fuel. For example, a new law requires propane distributors to offer all customers a budget plan.
More information on the Cold Weather Rule is available at the Public Utilities Commission website or by calling 651-296-0406 or 800-657-3782.
Minnesota’s Energy Assistance Program
In addition to the Cold Weather Rule, Minnesota offers the Energy Assistance Program to help pay home heating costs. The Minnesota Commerce Department administers the program in partnership with 30 local service providers throughout the state. It is federally funded through the Low
Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Minnesota’s Energy Assistance Program helps homeowners and renters earning at or below 50 percent of the state’s median income ($47,194 for a family of four) pay their heating bills. The average annual payment per household last year was about $500. Households with seniors, people with disabilities, veterans and children are especially encouraged to apply.
Applications were recently sent to households that qualified for energy assistance last year. Others who may qualify are encouraged to apply by contacting the local service provider in their county by calling 800-657-3710. Information is also available at the Commerce Department’s Energy Assistance Program webpage.
Minnesota consumers using delivered fuels to heat their homes are eligible for the Energy Assistance Program, even though they are not covered by the Cold Weather Rule.
Weatherization Assistance Program
The Commerce Department also administers the Weatherization Assistance Program, which provides energy efficiency improvements to reduce energy costs for needy households that meet income eligibility guidelines. Both homeowners and renters may apply for weatherization assistance. Call 800-657-3710 for information.
Other forms of help
Other forms of heating assistance may be available through county social service programs, community-based organizations, and nonprofit agencies.
The Commerce Department’s Division of Energy Resources offers energy-saving information that every household can use to help control heating costs. Some basic no-cost and low-cost energy-saving recommendations include:
- Weather strip and caulk windows and doors to keep warm air in and cold air out.
- Cover drafty windows with tightly sealed plastic.
- Open curtains and blinds on south-facing windows to let the sun in during the day to naturally heat your home.
- Seal air leaks to prevent cold air for entering through chimneys, vents, pipes and wires that penetrate walls, ceilings and attics.
- Close your fireplace damper when a fire is not in use to prevent warm air from escaping.
- Maintain your heating system. Have annual furnace or boiler inspections, clean or replace furnace filters regularly, and consider replacing old heating systems with more efficient ENERGY STAR® models.
- Use a programmable thermostat. Set your thermostat to automatically turn down the heat at night and when nobody is home.
More energy-saving tips can be found at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energysaver webpages. For more information on reducing energy use in your home, check out the Commerce Department’s Home Energy Guide.