I-Team 8

Indiana ranks among US leaders in utility disconnections

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Indiana does not require utility companies to submit rates on how many customers are disconnected each month.

Indiana also has one of the highest electricity disconnection rates in the country. Five states — Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Illinois — accounted for 69% of all U.S. disconnections in 2020 and 2021, according to a report from the Washington-based Center for Biological Diversity and BailoutWatch.

The state government issued an emergency order during the pandemic for utilities to provide data on disconnections, but the order ended in 2021.

The Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor believes the current inflation-riddled economy is placing significant financial burdens on consumers.  

According to the Consumer Price Index, in the past year, the average cost of electricity service has increased 12%, natural gas service is up 30%, and the price of fuel oil has skyrocketed 106%. All of these percentages add up to an equation of economic hardship for thousands of Hoosier utility consumers, but how many is a guarded number.

The Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counsel has filed a petition to require most of the state’s utility companies to provide disconnection numbers and how many customers are more than 60 days late on their bills.

Anthony Swinger, director of external affairs for the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counsel, said, “We will have a much clearer picture of what is really going on and how these higher costs are affecting utility bills, and we can use that information for the foundation of whatever steps need to be taken at that point.”

Indiana requires the Office of Utility Consumer Counsel to ensure that public utilities provide reasonable service and rates to consumers. The office staff believes the economic hardships created by record inflation and soaring consumer prices are on the same level as the government ordered restrictions during the pandemic. But without accurate disconnection numbers, it is hard to tell how many people are impacted.

Swinger said, “Not having the data is kind of like, you know, maybe you broke a bone on the playground, maybe you didn’t, but we don’t have an X-ray. Having this data will be kind of like having an X-ray. We can see the information and see the numbers for what they are, and then we will have a good picture of where we are and what if anything we need to do from there.” 

At the height of the pandemic in the summer 2020, News 8 reported the IPL had 40,000 residential and commercial accounts past due. At the same time Duke Energy reported more than 118,000 were behind.

According to the commission, catching up with past-due bills places additional economic stress on consumers.