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      Utilities shut off in the winter?

      With these chilly temperatures, it's hard not turn up the thermostat in your home.

      But energy prices are up this year. SEMCO Energy, in fact, says its price is up 20 percent from last year at this time.

      With higher prices it's hard for some to make their bills.

      When it gets extremely cold like Wednesday, Stanley Gierlack of Marquette worries about the bills.

      "The really cold weather doesn't bother me, said Stanley. It's the price of natural gas to heat your home...that's what bothers me the most."

      Stanley isn't worried about being cut off, but it's a concern for many, because if you don't pay your heating bill, your service could be discontinued, even in the winter.

      But at UPPCO and other regulated utilities, there is help for those in need.

      "During the winter period, there's the winter protection plan, which is in place through the state of Michigan, said UPPCO Customer Care Manager Jodi Pineau. And the winter protection plan does allow some protection for some consumers, such as elderly or low income and they need to apply through their local utilities to get granted that protection."

      The plan lasts from November through March. For elderly who qualify, they don't have to make a payment, and people on low income in the plan get a discount. But being on the plan will mean higher bills the rest of the year.

      Even though there's no law that protects everybody, most utility companies are compassionate during cold spells and won't turn off your heat.

      "Generally around the state, SEMCO, when it gets to below about 20 degrees--and that's kind of a rough number, and it changes geographically--then the individual manager in the area will suspend shutoffs for that day or that period of time," said Tom Lubbers, SEMCO Director of Marketing.

      For more on the winter protection plan and energy saving tips, click here .