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Minnesota Kicks Off Winter Disconnect Protection Season

October 16, 2015—Minnesota began its "Cold Weather Rule" ( Minnesota Statute 216B.097 ) this week. According to the rule, between the dates of October 15 and April 15, utilities are not allow to disconnect the utility service of any residential customer whose primary heating source would be affected by the cutoff. They must also reconnect any qualifying customers who already have been cut off.

In order to qualify, the household income of the customer must be at or below 50 percent of the state median income. If customers are already receiving any form of public assistance, they are automatically qualified. In addition, the utility must provide customers seeking protection with referrals to energy assistance, weatherization, conservation, or other programs likely to reduce the customer's energy bills. They must also offer low-income customers facing disconnection the opportunity to participate in a Cold Weather Program (CWP) payment plan.

The CWP plan cannot require the monthly payment to be more than 10 percent of the household's income. If a household and the utility cannot agree on a payment plan, the household can appeal to the Public Utilities Commission, which will establish a payment agreement. The Cold Weather Rule does not, however, protect households from shut-off if they fail to make and keep CWP payments. All customers are given 20 days after receiving a shut-off notification to contact their utility provider to start working out a CWP plan.

Minnesota is just the first of many states that use a date-specific program season to start their disconnect policies. According to the data gathered from LIHEAP state plans, only two states, Minnesota and Ohio, begin their programs by the end of October. The majority of state grantees begin by the end of November with a few beginning in December. Other states, such as Colorado and California, run a year-long disconnect policy that prevents disconnects to homes with seriously ill or disabled household members. Others, such as Arizona and Texas, have a temperature-based system. For more detailed information about disconnection policies in each state, see the Clearinghouse website .

Sources: Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, LIHEAP Clearinghouse