The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, which regulates electric and gas companies, has issued its annual reconnect order to energy suppliers across the state.
By Oct. 15, electric and gas service that was disconnected during the spring and summer must be turned back on under Ohio law.
“There are some people, for whatever their financial circumstances, that have service disconnected because of nonpayment,” said Neil Durbin, spokesman for Dominion East Ohio, a gas company serving Northeast Ohio. “As the winter months approach and the weather grows colder, these assistance programs become vital.”
A wide range of services exist, but for those who have had their power or gas disconnected, the PUCO order requires that they enter a payment plan to bring down their debt and get back on track.
One such plan, administered by the state and available through most utility companies, is the Percentage of Income Payment Plan Plus. The plan helps income-eligible customers maintain gas or electric service by paying only 6 percent of their total monthly household income.
Under the plan, each time customers make a monthly payment by their due date, an account is credited for the rest of the month’s billing amount, plus a credit goes toward any existing account balance. The incentives help to bring down any debt and make accounts current. Other programs give emergency assistance to help with dwindling fuel supplies during the winter months or help homeowners weatherize and make their homes more energy efficient. Most of the major aid programs are administered through either the Ohio Department of Development or the PUCO.
“We have agencies that represent counties apply for grants,” said Penny Martin, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Development. “The grantees are then responsible for the on-the-ground and in-the-community implementation of those funds.”
The services come with significant guidelines and income eligibility requirements.
Under PIPP Plus, which serves 90,000 Dominion East customers alone, if a customer misses a payment by their due date, they will be removed from the program and their entire account balance will come due.
For Barbara Hamad, 70, of Liberty, the requirements are confusing. Last month, a Dominion East Ohio bill for $59 came due Aug. 8. Hamad decided to pay a day early, and by September she received a bill for $118 and no credit for the August payment.
Representatives with Dominion East told her she paid late by submitting the bill early, and to avoid a one-month disconnection she was told she would have to leave the PIPP Plus program or make the full payment.
“I just wanted someone to tell me why I was penalized for paying my bill early — they couldn’t explain it,” Hamad said.
Durbin said the company was looking into the problem for Hamad and oftentimes customers have back payments that cannot always be paid down with credits through PIPP plus. Hamad said she had $400 in credit on her account.
All the energy assistance programs administered by the state are available by filling out one application, available by calling 1-800-282-0880.