Every morning Donna Bown wakes up and wonders if her power will be disconnected.
With the heat index predicted to reach over 100 degrees today, the West Terre Haute resident fears she will be left to sweat it out. Because of a medical condition, she worries she will have trouble breathing.
Bown was scheduled for disconnect on Monday of this week from Duke Energy, she said. She is waiting to receive her disability check so she can pay her bill and keep cool. She currently doesn’t have the money to pay her past-due electricity bill.
“I wake up and think … is my power going to be shut off today?” Bown said.
Her situation poses the possibility that others during the Midwest heat wave will find their health endangered if a utility company shuts them off for nonpayment.
Duke Energy, however, doesn’t shut customers off during periods of extreme weather, said its spokeswoman Angeline Protogere.
“We do not disconnect customers during days like this when the weather is extremely hot,” she said.
Electricity consumers in Indiana set a new record high Monday for usage, using 6,602 megawatt hours. The record replaces the one set July 25, 2005, by nearly 200 megawatt hours, a way to measure the amount of electric usage.
If someone has received a disconnect notice, they should contact the utility company immediately, said Anthony Swinger of Indiana’s Office of the Utility Consumer Counselor.
“The ball is in the customers’ court to contact the utility and let them know the situation,” he said.
Indiana consumers such as Bown have little protection from utility disconnection during the hot summer months, Swinger said.
“The only [law protecting consumers] that Indiana has is during the winter heating season,” he said, “and it applies to electricity and natural gas and only to consumers who qualify for low-income home energy assistance.”
There are things people can do who are facing a utility disconnection.
Duke Energy offers customers a billing program in which one can pay a set amount each month for electric consumption to avoid unexpectedly high energy bills. The program, Protogere says, helps spread out costs throughout the year.
The most important thing a customer can do when they can’t afford to pay their energy bill is to call, Protogere said.
“Under certain circumstances we can work out payment arrangements,” she said. “The most important thing is to get in touch with us.”
It’s no surprise when people get disconnected, Protogere said. Duke Energy customers do receive an advance notice. To be eligible for disconnection, a customer’s bill would have to be at least 30 days overdue, and they would receive notification alerting them they might be disconnected.
Bown has been disconnected before and spoke of the difficulty in avoiding a utility disconnection.
“It’s such an involved, convoluted process, and if you can’t get an extension, you’re just at their mercy, really,” she said. “And that’s just outrageous.”
Swinger said there are ways to conserve electricity usage during the hottest time of the year.
“There are a lot of steps that can add up,” he said. “It all comes back to your air conditioner. The more stress on your air conditioner, the more likely your bill is higher to be.”
Sally Pavlow, a meteorologist for Indianapolis’ National Weather Service, said Indiana is due for a break from the heat. There are thunderstorms, rain and cooler temperatures on the way, she said.
“It looks like Thursday might be our light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “It looks like mid-80s on Thursday.”
Fayette township trustee Richard Livingston said he’s limited with how much he can help residents who are struggling with living expenses.
People who are in an emergency situation with their utility bills, prescription costs or lack of food can apply to their township trustee for assistance to offset some of the expenses.
“They can’t let the bill go so much and have a $300 or $400 electricity bill and then expect the township to pay it,” he said. “We can only pay so much on it.”
Fayette Township’s application is six pages and assesses household size and income, Livingston said. Currently the township averages eight or nine applications per month with an influx of applications in winter.
Livingston said not everyone gets approved, though the township pays an estimated $1,500 per month for living expenses in the summer and $2,000 in the winter for each household.
“I pay what I can on it,” he said.
Laura Followell can be reached at (812) 231-4253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Every morning Donna Bown wakes up and wonders if her power will be disconnected.
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