Utilities urged to extend consumer protections during COVID-19 pandemic

Many residential utility customers are facing uncertainty and financial hardship during this unprecedented time. To help ensure that Minnesotans are adequately protected, a joint letter was sent on March 24 to all electric and gas utilities operating in Minnesota from Department of Commerce Commissioner Steve Kelley and Public Utilities Commission Chair Katie Sieben. The letter set forth a list of minimum actions requested of utilities for the duration of the national security or peacetime emergency, as follows: 

  • Extend protections of Minnesota’s Cold Weather Rule specifically restricting disconnection of residential customers for non-payment of utility bills and reconnecting customers who have been disconnected. This does not affect the utility’s ability to disconnect a customer’s service for public safety concerns unrelated to non-payment. (The Cold Weather Rule normally runs October 15-April 15.) 
  • Waive late fees that any residential or small business customer incurs because of the economic circumstances unrelated to the coronavirus pandemic. 
  • Arrange payment plans for customers requesting help during this time that is based on the financial resources and circumstances of the customer. 

Utilities were asked to e-File their responses to these specific requests by April 3, 2020.  In a recent briefing to Minnesotans, Governor Walz thanked Chair Sieben and Commissioner Kelly for their joint request that utilities voluntarily commit to not cutting off heat or power, noting that over 100 utilities have stepped up to do so. The governor encourages all utilities operating in Minnesota to make the same decision and said federal and state governments should “help make sure we get this right.” 

Minnesotans needing help regarding utility bills or utility shutoffs should contact their utility to get information about its policies during the COVID-19 pandemic. Those needing information or help with their utility service provider can contact the Consumer Affairs Office at consumer.puc@state.mn.us, 651-296-0406 or 1-800-657-3782.