Push to require Indiana utility companies to report power shutoffs

Politics

INDIANAPOLIS – Right now, Indiana does not require utility companies to report power shutoffs. Therefore, we don’t know the exact number of people disconnected from energy in the state.

However, there is a push to change that.

When Indiana energy companies started asking for pandemic relief in March, groups like the Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana pushed for transparency of power shutoffs.

Since it’s not required by the state or commission, only some companies are reporting them this year.

“What data we do have is very troubling,” said Kerwin Olson, executive director of the Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana.

Five of the state’s largest utility companies including, Duke Energy and Indianapolis Power and Light, volunteered to share monthly Indiana disconnection numbers in 2020.

So far, those five companies have shutoff power to more than 50,000 customers since August.

Energy consumer advocates are pushing for Congress to pass a utility shutoff moratorium. It wasn’t included in the most recent relief package.

“At bare minimum, there should be some kind of oversight, some basic transparency and reporting requirements, said Greer Ryan, the policy analyst for the Center for Biological Diversity.

Indiana has had several chances to pass a power shutoff reporting requirement but has yet to do so.

“It doesn’t make any sense to us,” said Olson.

“We think the focus has to be on what will help people pay their bills,” said Charles Harak, manager of the energy unit at the National Consumer Law Center.

He said advocates are asking the federal government to give $10 billion to energy assistance specifically.

“It might not pay 100% of everybody’s bill who is in a hole, but you don’t need to be entirely caught up to avoid a termination,” said Harak.

The recent federal package gives $25 billion in emergency rental assistance, but it can be spent on utilities too.

“While that relief is certainly welcome, it’s certainly not large enough to encompass all of the issues and struggles that households are facing right now during this pandemic,” said Olson.

We may never have a precise number unless the state requires energy companies to report how many Hoosier families are behind on bills.

We reached out to several energy companies to respond to this story.

Duke Energy said there is a winter moratorium on disconnections in effect right now that applies to customers who are part of the government energy assistance program. Hoosiers who qualify for assistance are protected from a utility disconnection December 1 through March 15. You can learn more here.

“We urge any customer struggling to pay a bill to contact us about options that may be available to them,” said Duke Energy Spokesperson Angeline Protegere.

Indianapolis Power and Light Spokesperson Courtney Arango said, “IPL submits in March an annual performance report to the IURC. Contained in that report is a breakdown of aggregate customer data by month. We will monitor any legislation that may impact our customers throughout the session.”

The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission only asked the reporting of utility disconnections by companies that had filed a petition seeking recovery of pandemic-related costs from customers, such as unpaid bills. Citizens Energy Group was not among the utility companies seeking recovery of pandemic related costs from customers, so none of the disconnection numbers have come from that company.

“We cannot speculate on legislation that has not yet been filed,” said Citizens Spokesperson Dan Considine.

However, Considine added ways to help struggling hoosiers paying their bills:

We are urging customers needing financial assistance to apply for the Indiana Energy Assistance Program to automatically qualify for additional help from the utility.  Customers who qualify for EAP will automatically receive the following assistance from Citizens:

Universal Service Program (USP) – The USP provides qualified customers a 10-25 percent discount on their natural gas bill. USP customers may also receive crisis assistance funds to be applied to past due heating bills.

Low-Income Customer Assistance Program (LICAP) – Subject to available funds, LICAP provides wastewater bill credits to qualified customers. LICAP eligible customers may also receive funding toward the purchase of water-saving appliances and home renovations.

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