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A statewide ban on utility disconnections over the winter season takes effect in Wisconsin on Thursday.

Under terms of the moratorium, Wisconsin utility companies cannot shut off the electricity or natural gas to customers who don't pay their bills on time, from Nov. 1 through April 15.

Madison Gas & Electric has more residential customers who are behind on their bills than last year, but they owe a bit less than a year ago. A total of 12,288 households owe $2,055,070, compared with 11,966 who owed a combined $2,078,309 at this time last year.

Wisconsin Power & Light has fewer customers running behind. As of September, 12,643 households were more than 90 days late paying their bills, and they owed a total of $3,254,058. A year ago, 12,944 residential accounts were unpaid, with a combined balance of $3,651,276.

But those who already are disconnected will have to contact their utility company if they want their heat and lights back for the winter.

Wisconsin utilities are not required to restore service already turned off for nonpayment before Nov. 1 if no payment arrangement has been made.

"For those who are currently disconnected, they can restore their service only when they contact us and work out a plan," MGE spokesman Jack Eich said.

MGE customers with unpaid bills can call 608-252-7144, and Wisconsin Power & Light customers can call 800-255-4268.

Those who cannot afford to pay their heat and light bills can call the state's Home Energy Plus Hotline at 866-432-8947 or go online to www.homeenergyplus.wi.gov.

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