Cold weather has utility phones ringing

By: 
STEVE ROGERS
Staff Writer

Colder-than-normal temperatures that began in mid-December and generally have continued into early February have phones ringing at area utilities as consumers recoil at some of their electric bills.

The concerns have gotten to the point that Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley turned to the media to get some advice out to utility customers.

“We are dealing with high bill issues across the Northern District and really across Mississippi. And while there may be a very few caused by another problem, the vast majority are because of the cold," Presley said. “When things get as cold as they have been, it doesn’t matter how new or efficient your home or your heater is, it has to work a lot more to keep your home warm."

The cold weather also got some help from the season, especially during Christmas, a New Year's when kids are home from school, more people are visiting, and extra cooking contribute to what Presley labeled a "perfect storm" for high bills, some that have been reported three or four times normal.

"The usual, and understandable, reaction is to blame the high bill on an increase in rates or even a meter error," Presley said, noting those seldom are the actual reasons behind the big numbers.

“Unfortunately, the older a home gets the less energy efficient it tends to be. Mobile homes, especially older ones, are even harder to heat economically,” he said. 

Presley and local utilities say consumers can get help. He says the first step is to contact the utility to get an explanation on usage. Utilities can typically work out payment option. Community Action Agencies such as Prairie Opportunity also can help some low-income customers with bill payments, he noted.

“But if after that someone still feels their bill is too high, they can certainly contact the Commission at 1-800-637-7722,” Presley said. 

According to Presley, most local utilities, including 4-County, have programs to help.

“The Public Service Commission has worked with utility companies to make sure they all offer some kind of energy efficiency programs for their customers. Many also offer payment options and other programs," he said. 

4-County Marketing Manager Jon Turner agreed.

“Our job, each and every day is to provide reliable, affordable power to our members. A large part of that is making sure members have options in paying their bills, and tools to manage their power use. From our Prepay payment option to levelized billing to programs that can help members make energy efficient upgrades to their homes,” Turner said. “We also offer payment arrangements in most instances to help members when they have a large bill." 

Turner encouraged 4-County members to take advantage of technology as well.

“You can set up an online account from your computer or smart device and check your daily usage and get alerts to help you track and manage your electric use. Visit our website at www.4county.org or call 1-800-431-1544 to find out more,” he said.

At West Point Light and Water, the calls haven't been too bad yet. But the utility is ready to help.

"I know we've gotten some, but it hasn't been too bad so far. I've really had to only deal with two myself," said West Point City Manager Randy Jones. "And we do have programs to help people with payment plans. We understand people get into situations."

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