Monthly energy bills soaring

Published 3:46 pm Thursday, December 30, 2010


Staff Writer
The coldest December in 18 years is causing some electric-utility customers’ energy bills to double or triple this month, said Heidi Smith, spokeswoman for Tideland Electric Membership Corp.
It’s conceivable some people’s bills could quadruple, Smith said.
“It’s noticeable not only to the people getting the bills, but to the people rendering the bills,” she said Wednesday.
Information from Washington Electric Utilities wasn’t immediately available Wednesday.
The heavy usage Tideland typically sees in the coldest winter months, January and February, came early this year as overnight lows fell into the 20s night after night.
After reviewing detailed weather data compiled by the cooperative, Smith determined this has been the coldest December in Tideland’s coverage area since she started working with the company 18 years ago.
With sticker shock setting in, she urged the cooperative’s customers to call in if they have concerns about being able to pay their bills.
“What we need folks to do is the minute they get a bill that they feel like will be a hardship, they need to call their utility company right then,” Smith advised. “They don’t need to wait until the cutoff date to call about making a payment arrangement.”
Most area utilities — including Tideland — have programs set up to work with people who need to make payment arrangements, she related.
There are charitable sources that help needy people pay their electric bills. One of these programs is administered by the Beaufort County Department of Social Services.
The DSS program has run out of funds, at least for now.
“We have exhausted everything that we have gotten,” said Sylvia King, program manager for income maintenance at DSS.
It could be January before the program is replenished with additional money, King stated.
The Washington-based Salvation Army corps still has energy-assistance funds, according to staff.
“The Salvation Army does have funding available to help with utility bills for the needy families in our community,” commanding officer Lt. Chris Lyles wrote in an e-mail to the Daily News.
“When individuals come into our office, they are interviewed by our social worker and depending on their eligibility, we are able to assist with utilities, as well as in other areas. We also work with other area agencies in order to best help the families in need. Depending on the family’s situation, we are able to help with either a portion of their bill or the entire bill, provided they meet our eligibility requirements and funding is available. Our donors place a great deal of trust in The Salvation Army to make sure that we are helping the families that truly need the assistance and are not enabling others who are attempting to abuse it. We are able to verify the need and individual circumstances during this interview process before committing any funds. If there are any questions concerning eligibility or to make an appointment, please call The Salvation Army at 946-2523.”
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