Utility customers in Springfield are shielded from disconnections through late July to help out those who’ve been hurt financially by the coronavirus pandemic.
City Water, Light and Power Chief Engineer Doug Brown said the extended grace period gives customers more time to seek assistance in paying overdue bills.
“We want to encourage our customers to get on payment plans for the ones that are impacted by the pandemic,” he said at a Public Utilities Commission meeting Monday. “There’s plenty of financial assistance there, and they keep adding to it.”
The governor recently announced more funding to help low-income utility customers pay their bills.
CWLP reports a 16% increase in the number of customers with past-due bills this year compared to last.
Decommissioning On Track
Brown told city council members that the utility is on track to decommission its two oldest coal generators – Units 31 and 32 - by the end of the year.
The move will impact fewer than a dozen employees, after some workers retire and others apply for positions in other city departments, Brown said.
Brown again emphasized that the city will continue to have reliable energy, pointing out that Unit 4 - the newest of the coal generators - combustion turbines and electricity bought on the open market cover the electricity load 99.5% of the year.
Additional electricity capacity will be needed once Unit 33 is retired, which should happen by September of 2023.
The utility plans to seek proposals for backup sources of power this summer, and make a decision by the end of the year. Brown said they are open to all types of energy sources and would consider proposal from the planned natural gas plant in Pawnee.
Meanwhile, Unit 33 is expected to be back in service in July, 2020. It has not been running after a failed battery charged caused a fire and damage last November. Brown said two employees have been disciplined, but they are going through an appeal process with the union.
Lead Pipe Replacement Program
Money from the state government is allowing CWLP to replace many lead water pipes that go directly to houses.
Typically, the utility pays for replacement lines that go under sidewalks and right-of-ways, while it requires homeowners to cover the cost of new pipes from their water meter to their house.
A $1 million forgivable loan program through the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency will cover that cost for up to 200 low-income residents, as well as the cost to repave the street and sidewalks. It doesn’t cover the city’s portion.
CWLP estimates that there are 10,850 lead service pipes in older neighborhoods of Springfield. The city stopped using lead lines in favor of copper ones in 1930. But Ted Meckes, the head of the water division, said the city doesn’t a complete database of the lines.
Lead levels in CWLP’s drinking water has never reached federal limit, according to the utility. However, the pipes still should be replaced.
“Our most cost efficient way to do this is blocks at a time, so that’s what we’re going to do, neighborhoods at a time,” he said.
The utility plans to start with a dozen in-home daycares, and then move on to neighborhoods around Cook and 11th Street, and South Grand to Cook.
The utility plans to apply for another $4 million grant next year.
Correction: The loan program is funded by the state. A previous version incorrectly stated it is federal funding.