The $17,000 Electric Bill: How Low-Income Residents Strike Out Regardless of What Option They Choose

Sharee B.

Electricity services are one of the most essential resources that a household can have. In most states there are but a few choices as service providers hold monopolies over coverage areas. Even in parts of the country with deregulated markets, which provide a bevy of options to choose from, those who survive on lower median incomes don't always fare much better.

The costs of electricity have skyrocketed recently, and for those who don’t have the ability to pay the consequences can be devastating.

One such customer, a veteran that receives Social Security, and resides in Texas survived one of the coldest winter storms in history. However, he received an electricity bill for a whopping $16,752. He was forced to deplete his savings in order to cover the balance while making ends meet.

Another, a single father with three young children faced constant utility disconnections, under a prepaid energy plan when his balance fell below zero. He often relied on the hospitality of relatives to sleep for the night until he could gather the minimally required account restoration balance.

Residents in Midwestern and Upper East Coast states often encounter bills ranging from $300 or more per month where one night without heat or electricity can cause hypothermia or worse where the daily average is -20 F.

While each state operates its own Public Utility Commission, what they offer residents in terms of relief is sometimes not enough. For instance, those who face shut-offs in the sweltering summers or in-between weather moratoriums in some regions, are made to encounter restore times of at least 24 hours. This is in addition to other stipulations such as providing a full financial accounting, medical documentation, and agreeing to unaffordable payment plans that have a high risk of default while adding thousands of dollars to an already stretched monthly budget.

However, in some cases, companies are providing temporary options such as free coverage during certain hours, disconnect protection on weekends or holidays, and deferred balance repayment.

As millions of residents prepare for home winterization after a summer of record-breaking temperatures, the true cost of keeping the lights on has only yet begun

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