City Water, Light and Power is encouraging customers with past due bills to contact its customer service department to get on a payment plan. They can call 217-789-2030 or visit CWLP’s website.
Those who are not a payment plan or seeking financial assistance could be at risk for disconnection “in the weeks ahead,” said Amber Sabin, spokesperson for the city-owned utility.
The utility recently began sending out disconnection notices, which it had paused since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. But no one’s electricity had been shut off, Sabin said.
As of Monday, 12,248 accounts had past due bills of a total of $8.8 million. That’s 20% of the utility’s estimated 60,000 accounts. The vast majority are residents who are behind on payments by between two and more than 30 days. There are 961 commercial accounts that are behind.
“We wanted to start disconnect notices to get customers to understand this doesn’t last forever,” Chief Utility Engineer Doug Brown told city council members Tuesday night.
Brown says the utility is not planning on doing any disconnections through the end of September. The utility also doesn’t do shut-offs during “winter temperatures,” according to Sabin.
Brown said the notices and other letters and phone calls made to customers have spurred some action. The number of accounts with a payment plan or waiting for financial assistance jumped by 508 in the last week of August, according to numbers provided to city council members and obtained by NPR Illinois.
Brown said there are many assistance programs available for those who qualify.
A policy set in March – and supported by the city council in a resolution – said CWLP would follow Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s rules for investor-owned utilities and halt shut-offs for residential customers until the governor’s emergency order ended. The rules did not apply to CWLP because it’s city-owned.
While the emergency order is still in place, the moratorium on shut-offs for investor-owned utilities ended on July 26. Most utility companies then voluntarily extended it through the end of September. Commonwealth Edison and Ameren Illinois’ moratoriums expired September 10.
However, the Illinois Commerce Commission – the state agency that oversees investor-owned utilities – sent a letter this week encouraging companies to continue the moratorium through March 2021.
CWLP has a smaller customer base than the investor-owned utilities, Sabin said, so the companies are better able to weather lost revenue.
Springfield’s resolution also said late fees would be waived until 30 days after the emergency order ended, which Sabin said is still in place.
Ward 6 Ald. Kristin DiCenso said she was upset that the council wasn’t informed before the disconnection notices were sent out.
“People are worried about where their next meal is coming from right now. I don’t think they should have to worry about their electricity or their lights being turned off,” she said.
She said she understood that the utility needs customers to pay its bills, however she pointed out that during the state budget impasse, the State of Illinois owed as much as $12 million to CWLP.
Brown, in his email, said that those bills were eventually paid, but there is a chance that some customers might just walk away.
“If we can get our customers on a payment plan and make sure they are aware of all of the financial assistance options, it is a win-win for our customers and CWLP,” he wrote.