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Utilities can soon cut off those behind on heating bills; state assistance still available

Richard Kremer

Wisconsin Public Radio

Wisconsin's heating moratorium is ending next Wednesday, meaning utility companies can start disconnecting customers behind on their bills. Heating assistance programs are still available, however.

Starting on April 16, Wisconsin utility companies will be allowed to shut off power and natural gas services to customers with outstanding bills. It's a tough time of year for households struggling to keep up with heating costs, which have been notably higher this year. 

Xcel Energy, which serves more than 200,000 households, says this year's natural gas bills were around 25 percent higher than last winter. Pat Boland is Xcel's manager of customer assistance programs. He says every year some customers stop paying their utilities entirely during the heating moratorium, but this year they're getting farther behind.

“The arrears — or the amount of dollars — are about 15 percent higher than what they were last year at this time, but thankfully the number of customers that are significantly past due on their bill is about flat,” Boland said.

Though the heating moratorium expires next week, the state's Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program is still accepting applications. Department of Administration spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis says there's still a month before the program ends this spring.

“They can still get financial assistance through the home energy plus program through May 15,” Marquis said. “It goes actually a little bit longer than the heating moratorium, and we expect that we will probably help more than 215,000 households across the state.”

Though the number of people getting heating assistance is likely to be higher than last year, the amount of money going out is less.  That's because federal heating assistance funding for Wisconsin is down about $10 million this year.

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