Utility disconnections resume, providers offer plans to catch up
After a five-month deferral through a series of executive orders from North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, utility disconnections have resumed statewide, including here in Beaufort County. By and large, however, local electricity providers are working to meet customers in the middle to address unpaid bills.
At Tideland Electric Membership Co-operative, customers are divided into one of two categories, either pre-paying for electricity or receiving a traditional utility bill each month. While both categories have been exempt from disconnection during the past few months, disconnections for pre-paid members have now resumed. Post-paid accounts, however, will not see disconnections until September.
“In both cases, we are allowing for an extended period of time to pay those balances that accumulated during the last couple of months,” said Tideland Corporate Communications Manager Heidi Smith. “For the pre-paid folks, we have a debt management program that they can utilize, so that with each payment they make, a part of it will go to debt recovery. Our intention is to structure it so that they are allowed at least six months to come current on whatever they accumulated, and the same is true for the post-paid.”
Smith said those who have a security deposit on file can also used that money to help pay down any accumulated debt and have their account converted to pre-pay.
“Really, the key here is we’re encouraging in every single case for anyone who is behind on their account, it’s critical that we speak to each and every one of them personally to figure out which plan will best suit their needs and put something together that’s achievable and realistic for where they’re at as a family,” Smith said.
The exact number of Tideland members carrying debt from the five-month pandemic reprieve was not immediately available.
Washington Electric Utilities
At Washington Electric Utilities, Washington City Manager Jonathan Russell says about 273 accounts were delinquent in March, before the moratorium on disconnections went into effect. Reaching out to those customers, 45 were unable to pay their bills before disconnections resumed this month.
“Anyone who fell behind during the governor’s restrictions on cutoffs, from March 31 to Aug. 1, we are not cutting them off,” Russell said. “They’re automatically being placed on a repayment plan for six months. We’re taking the outstanding debt and dividing it by six.”
All told, he says collections on utility bills remained fairly consistent during the moratorium, with less than 5% of customers, or roughly 800 accounts, falling delinquent. For customers with bills that have a due date of July 29 or later, those accounts may be subject to disconnection if not paid.
“When the August cycle comes due, if they have not made payment, they will be added to the disconnection list,” Russell said. “But our disconnections run about 45 days behind our due date, so we won’t see any new disconnections that were placed behind due to the COVID crisis until late this month or early next month.”
Customers can make payments at www.washingtonnc.gov, by calling 1-877-201-3770 or by using drop box locations outside of city hall.
Town of Belhaven
Of 1,300 customers who receive their electricity from the Town of Belhaven, between 150 and 200 customers will be eligible for a repayment plan to make up missed payments during the disconnection moratorium.
“We sent them letters with the payment arrangement details that they’ll need to come in and sign to get registered for the repayment plan,” Davis said. “We’ll give that through the end of the month and then our regular disconnections will resume in September.”
Those who have questions about their billing or accounts can call 252-943-3055 and ask for assistance from the utility department.
According to Duke Energy Progress website, disconnections for nonpayment remain suspended through August. Beginning in September, those who need additional time to pay an outstanding balance will have a variety of options, including a 12-month repayment plan.
According to a Duke Energy spokesperson Jeff Brooks, approximately 130,000 Duke Energy customers in North Carolina were 60 days or more behind in their bills at the end of June, making them eligible for disconnections. That’s about 8% higher than in the previous year. Specific numbers of delinquent customers in Beaufort County were unavailable.
“We continue to encourage customers who are, understandably, behind in their payments, to pay what they can now to avoid large bill balances that may be difficult to manage later,” Brooks wrote. “Regardless of the timeline, all customers will have at least one full billing cycle after we announce the resumption of standard operations to prepare, discuss options for their situation and make payment arrangements. And those payment arrangements will offer an extended period to bring their account current again.”
Additional information is available at www.dukeenergyupdates.com.