Consumer_Finance - Energy_Utility Rights

As a residential utility customer, you have both rights and responsibilities to ensure fair dealings between you and your utility company.

What are my public utility rights?

  •  Safe and reliable utility service

  • Fair credit and security deposit policies

  • The ability to question and dispute your bill’s accuracy with the utility

  • The option to file a complaint with the Public Utilities Commission (PUC)

Your utility company has the responsibility to honor all of these rights. You, the customer, should know your rights and fulfill your responsibilities to maintain your utility service.

What are my public utility responsibilities?

  • Paying your bill on time

  • Providing the utility with access to their meter

  • Giving proper and timely notice before moving or discontinuing service

 

How can I dispute my gas or electric bill if it has an error?

There may come a time you may have a dispute or complaint about your electric, natural gas or telephone service or provider. Common areas of dispute include: 

  • termination or suspension of service

  • billing or meter accuracy

  • deposits

  • quality of service

If you don’t agree with a utility bill, you must dispute the charge with the utility provider either in writing, in person or by telephone. Service cannot be shut off for charges legitimately disputed 24 hours prior to shut-off, but frivolous disputes will not stop a service shut-off. You must pay the undisputed part of the bill. You must cooperate in resolving the dispute.

You should always first try to resolve any issue or dispute with the company before doing anything. If after that you are unable to resolve the problem, you can contact the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission (PUC). The PUC will attempt to help you and your utility company settle the complaint through discussions and agreements.

What are the reasons the utilities may be shut off?

  • Non-payment of a bill

  • If you don’t let the utility company read the meter, inspect its equipment or investigate possible hazardous conditions on your property

  • Failure to pay an increased deposit or a deposit

  • Failure to pay per an agreement between you and the utility company.

 

What procedures does the utility provider have to follow before shutting off my utilities?

They utility provider must give a written notice of the intention to disconnect. The notice must be mailed or delivered to the address to which bills are customarily sent or the address where the service is provided.

  • If this is your first disconnection, the utility provider shall provide personal notice by either telephone, visit, or certified mail.

  • The written notice and personal notice shall contain a statement of the customer's right to appeal and where to appeal the decision to disconnect.

  • The utility shall make every reasonable effort to provide notice of a pending disconnection;

    •  Notice must be given to you at least 30 days from the date of the last bill.

  • Between November 1 to March 31 a utility company must provide an additional thirty (30) days before disconnecting service. The utility shall notify the customer before the normal disconnection date that the customer has an additional 30 days until disconnection.

  • This is not necessary if you have committed fraud, illegal use, or if it is clear that you have left or are preparing to leave without paying a past due bill.

    • You have refused to enter into an agreement with the utility company or have failed to honor an agreement you have already made.

    • There is no bona fide and just dispute surrounding the bill.

  • A dispute may not be defined as bona fide and just if a customer does not pay the undisputed portion of a bill and does not contact the commission with the unresolved dispute within 10 working days after the disconnect notice was sent; and

    • Your utility provider cannot turn off your utilities:

  • For non-payment for merchandise or special services purchased from the utility;

  • For failure to pay for a different class of utility service.

  • Failure to pay a bill for which the customer is a guarantor.

What about a Medical extension?

A utility provider shall postpone the disconnection of a utility service if the disconnection will aggravate an existing medical emergency of the customer, a member of the customer's family, or other permanent resident of the premises. Such extensions are limited to a single 30-day period from the date of a physician's certificate or a notice from a public health or social services official which states that disconnection of service.

Is there financial assistance to help pay my utility bill?

Yes, programs and resources throughout South Dakota can help the low to moderate income pay their energy bills, including heating and utility bills. Contact your energy provider for more details:

South Dakota Department of Social Services Office of Energy Assistance – Offers assistance to low income South Dakotans pay for heating costs. Assistance is offered on a first come first served basis. Eligibility and assistance amounts are based on the number of people in your home and total household income. These payments are made directly to your energy supplier.

To apply fill out the application

Office hours: 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. (CT) Monday-Friday.

If it is an emergency, call 1.800.233.8503.

West River Electric Association, Inc. - This energy provider also runs Operation Roundup for its South Dakota customers. A local Board of Directors administers the funds from this program, and they will review each and every application for help. Individuals families and customers can apply for grants from Operation Roundup, as well as local charities and non-profits. These organizations can use the money to pay for their own charitable programs.

Apply for emergency cash and funds from Operation Roundup for paying utility and heating bills, medical expenses, health care, and other unexpected bills. Dial any of the following.

  • Rapid City South Dakota 605-393-1500 or 888-393-1500.
  • Wall 888-279-2135 or 605-279-2135.

MidAmerican Energy - This utility company offers its customers an assistance program known as I Care. It was created in partnership with local charities and non-profits. What it does is the I CARE financial assistance program provides grants and support to your local community action agency. This organization then takes those funds and provides direct financial assistance for paying heating and energy bills.

In addition, the I Care program from MidAmerican Energy also offers home weatherization services for free for qualified low-income applicants. This can help people conserve energy, and therefore save money on their energy bills. MidAmerican Energy and the government contribute funds to the program that are based on customer contributions and the utility also pays all administrative costs. Call 1-888-427-5632 to apply or for more information.