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Rules about cold weather utility shutoffs....

Q: What are the rules about cold weather utility shutoffs?  Does it depend on how cold it’s going to be, or just on the time of the year?  Is there any way you can be shutoff when it’s cold?

A: Two different rules work together.  One prohibits any shutoff when it’s cold.  The other restricts shutoffs between December 1 and March 31.

The two different rules recognize that cold and winter aren’t always the same thing.  It’s not always cold during the winter, and winter isn’t the only time it gets cold.

The “cold weather rules” absolutely prohibit shutoffs when it’s going to be 32 degrees or colder.  If the weatherman says it’ll be that cold, you can’t be shutoff at all. 

Specifically, the law says that if the National Weather Service says it will be 32 degrees or colder at any time during the 24 hours after a scheduled cut, or over the following weekend or holiday, your power can’t be cut off.  That saves you from freezing without power.

This “cold weather rules” (or “32 degree”) applies year round, and applies to all utility companies.  If there’s an early cold snap in September or October, or a late one in April or May, the utility that provides your heat can’t be shut off until the forecast says it’ll be above 32 degrees.

The “winter rules” restrict disconnections between December 1 and March 31.  They only apply to utilities regulated by the Illinois Commerce Commission.  (Co-ops and municipal utilities are usually UNregulated).

Technically, the “winter rules” allow shutoffs during those months, but only if the utility company jumps through some extra hoops before they cut.

However, since it’s usually below 32 degrees during the 4 months covered by the “winter rules,” the “cold weather rules” usually overlap to stop any shutoff that the winter rules might allow.

Therefore, many utilities just suspend shutoffs between December 1 and March 31, when the “winter rules” are in effect.  During those months, they just won’t bother watching the weather to see if they can squeeze in a shutoff when the temperature rises above 32 degrees.  

But in November and April those same utilities will carefully set cuts according to the forecast, to comply with the “cold weather rules.”

If a regulated utility were going to set a disconnect between December 1 and March 31, on a day it was going to be above 32 degrees, the “winter rules” require that they offer you a special deferred payment plan first.  The plan required by the “winter rules” is slightly better than the usual deferred payment plan they must offer before shutoffs between April 1 and November 30.  Most notably, the down payment is lower--10% instead of your unpaid bill, instead of the usual 25%.  

Finally, ‘tis the season to seek energy assistance.  Seniors, disabled, and anyone already shutoff could apply September 1.  Families with children under 6 could apply October 1; everyone else after November 1.  Call (877) 411-9276 for info.

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