Utilities in Wisconsin will be allowed to disconnect service to customers for nonpayment of bills as of April 15. The Public Service Commission voted last week to end the state’s moratorium on utility disconnections, which has been in place for more than a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As of Feb. 15, utilities reported to the PSC that as many as 93,263 residential and 4,180 non-residential customers were at risk of disconnection. The utilities reported that the amount owed as of Dec. 31 was $309 million, about 58% more than it was the previous year.

About 1,000 of Superior Water, Light and Power's 16,000 customers are facing possible disconnection, according to President Rob Sandstrom.

That number is not uncommon, he said, but what is different this year is the amount of long-term debt that has piled up. The utility company tracks customers whose debt is past due by 30, 60 and 90 days.

“We’ve seen a much larger balance in that 90-day-plus bucket,” Sandstrom said, about double what it was last year at this time.

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There are also roughly 20 business accounts that are in arrears and facing possible disconnection, Sandstrom said, “which is new to us.”

East Central Energy, has seen a similar issue with long-term debt.

“The number of members facing disconnect is about the same, but the dollars owed, especially those that are 90 days past due, have risen,” said Lynzie Kelly, community relations coordinator.

She said about 400 of the company’s 62,000 customers are facing possible disconnection.

Both Sandstrom and Kelly emphasized the need for customers in jeopardy of losing service to call.

“We’re here to help,” Sandstrom said. “We want to help our customers, keep them connected.”

Possible options to avoid disconnection include deferred payments and payment plans.

“We encourage struggling members to call us, even if they do not believe they would qualify for assistance,” Kelly said. “We work with members who are facing financial challenges and direct them to resources and programs to help them get current on their bills.”

If customers are having difficulty paying their energy bills, they may be eligible for assistance through the Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance Program. Apply at energybenefit.wi.gov or by calling 800-506-5596. Visit the website to find out where to apply in person or call 866-432-8947.

Those who have filled out an energy assistance form may also qualify for COVID-19 relief funds, including a pot of $322 million that became available last month through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program to assist Wisconsin households that are unable to pay rent and utilities due to the pandemic. Northwest Wisconsin Community Services Agency is the local agency connecting Douglas County residents to those funds.

Whether customers are seeking assistance or setting up payment arrangements, time is of the essence.

“Act fast,” Sandstrom said. “Don’t wait until April 15.”

“Our last resort is to disconnect. We would much rather work with members to keep their power on and connect them with resources to help them through a difficult situation,” Kelly said.

Contact information

Superior Water, Light and Power: 715-394-2200, 800-227-7957 or swlpquestions@swlp.com

East Central Energy: 800-254-7944 or visit eastcentralenergy.com

Northwest Wisconsin Community Services Agency: 1118 Tower Ave., Monday through Thursday; 715-392-5127; or sjohnson@northwest-csa.org