Some people could be waking up today without electricity.

Thousands of non-paying electric customers can no longer hide behind a state moratorium that prohibits utilities from disconnecting customers in the cold winter months. Now, utilities can start disconnecting free-loaders. Amanda Wollin with the Wisconsin Public Service Commission suggests such customers try to set up a payment plan with their utility company. Otherwise, call consumer affairs at the PSC.

Wollin says help is available to eligible customers who can't pay the energy bills. Check the state energy help website to see whether you qualify.

Thousands of customers are in arrears and some utilities have been notifying their at-risk consumers about a possible disconnection. Alliant Energy lists about 63,000 non-paying consumers and Wisconsin Public Service cites 20,000. The PSC says there are currently almost 280,000 accounts in arrears with the five major utilities in the state.

It was in the '70s that the PSC first issued an emergency order to stop 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.

PSC consumer affairs: 1-800-225-7729 or 1-800-522-3014

AUDIO: Jackie Johnson report (1:30 MP3)

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