The Cold Weather Rule ends Monday, and with it state protection from electric and gas shutoffs for utility customers who are behind on their high winter bills.
That’s raising big worries at the Citizens’ Utility Ratepayer Board, the state agency that represents residential and small business utility customers. Increased rates and the extreme cold this past winter have combined to send bills soaring, said CURB’s chief consumer counsel, David Springe.
“I’m concerned we’re going to have a lot of customers behind on their bills,” Springe said. “It was so cold for so long we’re going to have a lot of people shut off.”
The Cold Weather Rule restricts gas and electric companies from disconnecting customers Nov. 1 through March 31 each year and requires utilities to offer customers who are in arrears a payment plan before turning off their electricity or gas service.
Customers who can’t pay their full bills have until Monday to contact their utility to arrange a payment plan, Kansas Corporation Commission spokesman Jesse Borjon said in a written notice.
The plan requires the customer to pay one-twelfth of the amount overdue, one-twelfth of the bill for current services, and any disconnection and reconnection fees and deposits owed to the utility. The balance of their outstanding bills will be spread out in equal payments over the next 12 months, Borjon said.
Springe predicted that disconnections at the end of the Cold Weather Rule period will be much worse than in the recent past.
Once the Cold Weather Rule ends for the year, there will be little if any help available for people who can’t afford to pay their bills, he said.
He said the situation looks even grimmer going forward with substantial rate hikes on the horizon.
“This (disconnections) is something we’re going to have to wrestle down, with ever-increasing rates,” he said. “Having people shut off is a health and safety concern for all of us. This may be a good time to start having a discussion about this.”
Customers who can’t pay their bills should call the customer service department at their utility company by Monday if they want to get on a Cold Weather Rule payment plan.
For more information on the rule or to address problems in working with a utility company, customers can call the KCC Consumer Protection office at 800-662-0027.