HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – With so many out of work right now, access to basic services is a real concern for Alabamians, many for the first time. So what happens if you can’t pay your utility bill?
With no answer from state or federal leaders, the answer varies from place to place. WHNT News 19 decided to find those answers.
Hundreds of thousands of unemployment claims have been filed by Alabamians since March. Many area utility companies are responding to help those struggling financially.
“During this unprecedented time, Huntsville Utilities has continued to take steps in our customers’ best interest. Some of those steps include disconnects for nonpayment so customers that are having trouble, we are sensitive to that trouble and we’ve been able to hold off on disconnects since March 13th,” said Wes Kelley, Huntsville Utilities CEO.
WHNT News 19 contacted 16 different utility companies and boards in Franklin, Madison, Morgan, Limestone, and Marshall counties. Of those 16, three are currently doing shut-offs for nonpayments.
North Marshall Utilities, which provides water, is one of them. The general manager says they are calling customers who are two billing cycles behind and trying to work out payment plans before turning off their water. Those who weren’t reached did have the water shut off.
Officials from the utility say they have turned 6 customers’ water off since Governor Ivey enacted her stay-at-home order. Of those six, two had moved without notifying the utility. Everyone still in their home has their water back on.
The Russellville water and electric boards, which are two separate entities, are still shutting off utilities, but they too are contacting customers before flipping the switch.
“From March the 16th through April the 22nd, Russellville Electric Board has disconnected approximately 83 customers. None due to the pandemic, all were the result of non payment and all 83 customers were almost immediately turned back on,” said Charles Canada, Russellville Electric Board general manager.
Canida says Russellville Electric is taking shut-offs on a case-by-case basis and has worked with 25 customers to set up payment plans to keep their power on.
Russellville Water Board general manager, Eric Hill says they are following a similar protocol. They have set up a ‘three payment plan’ for an estimated 25-30 customers who were having trouble paying their bill.
The governor did not provide guidance about utility shut offs in her stay-at-home order and it is not addressed in the federal government’s CARES Act.So, it’s up to each individual company to make the decision.
Tennessee Valley Authority is the power regulator in North Alabama. They told WHNT, TVA gave flexibility to make those decisions locally. It has to be fair and consistent to all their customers.
TVA is extending $1 billion dollars in credit to local power companies feeling a financial crunch due to the coronavirus outbreak. A TVA spokesman said utility companies who shut off power during the pandemic are still eligible for this credit.
Utility Companies WHNT News 19 contacted that have temporarily suspended shut-offs due to nonpayment
- Franklin County
- Russellville Gas Board – General manager Blane Collier told WHNT News 19, due to social distancing concerns, crews are not checking meters or shutting off gas for the time being. Collier urges customers having trouble paying their bill to set up a payment plan.
- Madison County
- Huntsville Utilities
- Madison Utilities
- Limestone County:
- Athens Utilities
- Limestone County Water and Sewer Authority
- Morgan County
- Decatur Utilities
- Northeast Morgan County Water and Sewer Authority
- Hartsell Utilities
- Joe Wheeler Electric Membership Corporation
- Marshall County
- Marshal Dekalb Electric Cooperative
- Marshall Gas District
- Guntersville Water Board
- Guntersville Electric Board
*This list only contains utility boards and companies WHNT News 19 contacted. There could be other companies in these counties that are suspending shut-offs due to nonpayment.