Minnesota's annual Cold Weather Rule took effect Tuesday for homeowners and renters struggling to pay energy bills in the winter.

Residents who want to partake in the protection must first contact their electrical or natural gas companies to set up a payment plan. All electrical and natural gas companies must offer the protection through April 15.

As long as customers make the agreed upon payments, utilities will not turn off heat to their home. Utilities can still shut off services to customers who don't make the payments.

The rule doesn't protect customers who don't set up a payment plan.

Customers of residential units can sign up for shut-off protection anytime during the Cold Weather Rule season.