Local utilities extend period before utility shutoffs
State law prohibits gas and electric companies from shutting off residential service from Nov. 1 to midnight April 15. That moratorium ended Tuesday, but local residents have a few extra days of warmth. Local utility companies won’t disconnect services until next week because of weather conditions.
The whole reason the moratorium was put in place was so utilities wouldn’t pull gas or electric service when it’s so cold outside, said Jim Newman, vice president of Dahlberg Light and Power.
“We don’t want to hurt anyone,” he said.
That leaves a window of opportunity for those who want to keep the heat on.
“Any customer with concerns about paying their bill should call as soon as possible to set up a payment plan,” said Bill Fennessey, manager of customer services and electric operations for Superior Water, Light and Power. They would rather work out a plan with people before a disconnection as opposed to after one.
“Usually it’s 24 hours before we can turn it on again,” Fennessey said. “That’s not a good position for a family to be in.”
Newman encouraged Dahlberg Light and Power customers to call, as well.
“Please get in touch with us,” he said. “Next week will be another week.”
East Central Energy (ECE) is also extending cold weather rule protection a week, but members having trouble paying their electric bill should call to set up a payment plan.
“Our preference is to keep the electricity on and we consider disconnection a last resort,” said Cindy Rolain, community relations coordinator for ECE.
Fennessey said notices of disconnection have been sent and should arrive early next week. The first wave of letters focused on customers who haven’t paid their utility bills all winter and have not contacted the utility company to set up a payment plan, although he declined to say how many letters were sent.
“We’re starting with just those who have larger balances,” Fennessey said. “We’re taking it a day at a time.”
People can call Superior Water, Light and Power at 715-394-2200 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. In addition to setting up a payment plans, staff can help customers connect with local agencies and programs like the Salvation Army, churches and state fuel assistance.
“We realize it’s been a tough winter,” Fennessey said, and they can help customers identify their options.
Dahlberg customers can call 715-378-2205 or 800-736-5167.
“The economy has been hard on a lot of our customers,” Newman said. Although many more have had to make payment arrangements, the number of customers facing disconnection is similar to previous years.
“If they don’t call and set up an affordable deferred payment agreement, we have no choice but to act,” Newman said.
East Central Energy customers in danger of having their utilities disconnected can call 800-254-7944.
“If they would contact ECE and make payment arrangements that is the best step they can take,” Rolain said.
Due to nationwide demand and extremely cold temperatures, natural gas prices have increased this winter, according to Fennessey. He, like others, has seen larger bills than previous years due to extreme cold.
Most utility customers have been able to make payment arrangements, according to all three utility companies.
“Our hope is we won’t have to disconnect anyone,” Fennessey said.
The heating assistance season runs through May 15. To learn more about heating assistance or to apply, call 715-395-1651 or 715-395-1304 in Douglas County, or 866-432-8947 for the state hotline or go to www.homeenergyplus.wi.gov.