Utilities in the state are warning their customers to pay up, or else.
State law prohibits Wisconsin utilities from disconnecting customers in the wintertime, but Tim Le Monds with the Wisconsin Public Service Commission says the free ride is almost over.
“This is a law that protects the consumer from being disconnected and going without heat during the time when it's needed most in the winter season. So this is something that is in place to protect those individuals, but April 16 th , again, is that deadline for when utilities can then start disconnecting folks who are behind on their payments.”
Next week utilities can start disconnecting free-loaders. In order to continue service, Le Monds is urging at-risk customers to make at least minimum payments – or call the utility to make other arrangements.
“I think most people in most cases have legitimate reasons of why they're behind. And so generally utilities are very willing to work out arrangements where they can continue their service and come up with a payment plan satisfactory for both parties.”
Le Monds says if customers can't reach an agreement with their utility, they are encouraged to call the PSC, Consumer Affairs Unit (1-800-225-7729), or check the state energy help website . (Or call: 1-800-522-3014) The exact numbers aren't yet available, but Le Monds says the amount of customers in arrears with the five major utilities in the state and facing disconnections are about 280,000.
NOTE: The Public Service Commission first issued an emergency order in the '70s to prevent utilities from disconnecting customers' heat between November 1 and April 15, because of health and safety concerns. That rule was adopted into Wisconsin state law in 1984.