Answer: It’s a law to keep the heat on, and your city plays an important role. Between Aug. 15 and Oct. 15 cities must notify utility customers about the "Cold Weather Rule" found in Minn. Stat. § 216B.097. So Wednesday, Oct. 15 of this year is the last day to send notices about this rule to utility customers if it applies to your city utility.
What’s the rule about? It prevents city utilities from disconnecting service to homes during the cold weather months—Oct. 15 through April 15—if that disconnection would in any way affect the consumer's primary heat source and if the consumer complies with the rule (see below). If a residence has been disconnected before Oct. 15, the rule requires the city utility to reconnect that home. Note that the rule does not allow use of “load limiters” or any device that limits or interrupts electric service in any way during these months.
Customers still pay. If a customer qualifies based on income and fills out the required forms, they must enter into payment plans and are also referred to energy assistance programs. If a customer does not comply with the rule, utility service may still be shut off during the winter, but cities must follow strict notice requirements in the rule before doing that.
Does this rule apply to city water utilities? That's a great question for your city attorney. One part of the rule defines “utility heating service” as natural gas or electricity used to heat a home—and that includes electricity needed to run gas heating equipment. The cautious approach is for a city utility to refrain from disconnecting a utility service during the winter months if that disconnection could affect a customer’s primary heat source. Many cities certify unpaid water and sewer charges more than once a year and no longer shut water off, cold weather or not.
For more discussion of all this, take a look at pages 24 -26 of this Research memo: Securing Payment of Utility Charges.
Written by Jeanette Behr, research manager with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or (651) 281-1228.
This blog post conveys general information. It’s not legal advice. Please check with your city attorney before acting on this information.