Minnesota is known for cold winters and that means heating costs increase.

What should people do if they are struggling to pay their heating bills?

The Minnesota Cold Weather Rule (CWR) can help. The CWR exists to protect and reconnect one’s heat during the winter season. The rule helps keep electric and natural gas service on from Oct. 15 through April 15 each year.

The rule applies to residential customers, including renters who pay their own utility bills. The rule does not cover delivered fuels, such as fuel oil, propane or wood.

Those who are interested may apply for a CWR plan any time during the winter season.

Some people think that heat cannot be disconnected in the winter, but it can if one doesn’t pay their heating bill or does not have CWR protection. To keep the heat on all winter, one must make and abide by a CWR payment plan with their utility company.

Once a plan is in place, it is important to stick to it. If one doesn’t, the utility company is not required to offer more arrangements. If it looks like one won’t be able to make their scheduled payment, they should call the utility company immediately to create a new payment plan. 

Utilities offer different payment plans based on household income. To qualify for a reduced payment plan, total household income must fall below 50 percent of the state median.

One will not have to pay more than 10 percent of their household income toward current or past utility bills in any given month.

Most recent data shows the median annual income for a four-person household in Minnesota is $70,218. If one’s income is higher, they may still qualify for a reduced-payment plan with their utility. To apply for help, contact the utility company to request a payment arrangement.

All natural gas and electric utilities must follow some level of the rule.

If a plan can’t be agreed upon, one has 10 days to appeal to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. The commission will help set up a payment plan and the service will stay on during the appeal process.

For more information on this rule, visit the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission at mn.gov/puc or the Minnesota Department of Commerce at mn.gov/commerce.