As the snow began falling down Thursday, the electric company shut the heat off on a family stuggling to stay on top of their bills. The couple admits they were a month late, but were just waiting for payday to have money to cover the expense.
As his wife was bathing their 2-month-old son, the lights went out and the heat was turned off on Jon Gibson.
“We were just so surprised,” said Gibson. “It felt like it all happened so fast.”
Gibson was behind on his Duke Energy bill, but was on a payment plan. The last thing on his mind was having to use candles to see, and being left without heat with a snowstorm blowing in. The worst part, Gibson said, he did not see it coming.
“It almost feels like being bullied,” said Gibson. “We begged and pleaded with them, we really did.”
Adding insult to the Atlanta family’s injury: two kids. The youngest, Landon, born two months premature.
“He has to stay at a warm temperature,” said Gibson. “We are really just about keeping the kids healthy and everybody safe.”
Duke Energy Spokesman Lew Middleton said turning off the heat is not what the company wants.
“Disconnecting our customers is the very last step we ever want to take in the process of trying to collect what our customers owe,” said Middleton.
Middleton said Duke Energy will not shut off service from Dec. 1 through March 15, or any other time the temperature is expected to drop below 25 degrees. That rule applies only if the customer is on energy assistance. If the customer is not, Middleton said communication is the key.
“If you wait, and wait, and wait until finally, we come and disconnect your power because you did not pay us, then your range of options really shrinks,” said Middleton.
Gibson made an appointment with energy assistance, but he said it did not matter. He said he tried to explain his family’s situation, but he got the cold shoulder. On top of his bill was a reconnection fee. He now owes $750. Gibson said that is more than he pays in rent.
“We just can’t afford it,” said Gibson. “These are tough times out here for some people. We are just going to have to stay with somebody where we can keep warm and try and make due with what we can.”
The Gibson family will stay with family until they have the money they need to get the lights turned back on. Jon’s drive to work will be three times as long, but at least his family will be safe and warm.