MINNEAPOLIS - A safety buffer that protects customers with past-due bills from having their heat cut off during Minnesota's brutal winter expires Tuesday.

With the expiration of Minnesota's Cold Weather Rule, Xcel Energy advises customers with overdue bills to contact the company as soon as possible to make payment arrangements.

"We appreciate and support the efforts of customers who have sought assistance and made consistent payments during the winter months," said Pat Boland, manager, customer policy and assistance. "Our partnership with local Community Action Programs has resulted in customers receiving needed energy assistance. Funds are still available, so we encourage customers to apply."

Minnesota's Cold Weather Rule was designed to protect residential energy customers from service disconnections affecting their primary heating source. Developed by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, the rule is in effect annually from Oct. 15 through April 15.

Income eligible households may qualify for energy efficiency and conservation programs. For more information, contact Xcel Energy at 1-800-895-4999.