I-Team 8

Many Indiana utilities ask for rate hikes during pandemic

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Utilities went four months without cutting off service to a single customer during the coronavirus pandemic.

When a government-mandated moratorium ended, service disconnections skyrocketed and, in some cases, more than doubled compared to same time a year earlier. 

When utility companies started to cut off service, many of had already came to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission asking for rate increases.

According to numbers obtained by News 8 from the state government, AES Indiana, the former Indianapolis Power & Light Co., cut off service to 2,000 customers as the moratorium ended. Duke Energy, which serves much of central Indiana surrounding Indianapolis, waited a few weeks but then cut off 3,700 customers.

Citizens Energy Group told News 8 that, once the moratorium ended last summer, 2,700 gas customers and 2,100 water customers were disconnected. 

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Citizens has been working to minimize customer disconnections. In March of 2020, prior to an order from Governor Holcomb, Citizens suspended all utility disconnections and reconnected thousands of water customers previously disconnected. To help customers avoid disconnection, Citizens has been providing financial assistance from its Warm Heart Warm Home Foundation and offering flexible payment arrangements up to 12 months. To ensure customers know about this assistance, we have been communicating with customers via paid ads, social media, email, and our bill insert. We urge customers needing assistance to contact us at 317-924-3311 or online at www.CitizensEnergyGroup.com/help.” 

Citizens Energy Group

Through April, the company this year disconnected more than 4,000 gas and water customers.

The number disconnects spiked toward the end of 2020, but, according data from the state, are showing signs of stabilizing in Indiana.

Kerwin Olson, executive director of the Citizens Action Coalition, says that, on average, less than 0.05% of Indiana utility customers are without service due to nonpayment. According to the latest numbers provided to the nonprofit coalition, organization disconnects are returning to pre-pandemic levels with a few exceptions.

“There were a total of 18,848 reported disconnects, with 8,113 of those disconnects coming from AES Indiana here in Indianapolis. That is not quite but nearly half of the reported disconnects were done by AES in the city of Indianapolis, and that’s a little troubling to us,” Olson said. 

Olson says the pandemic drove up residential utility use while driving down commercial and industrial consumption, creating a revenue loss for many utilities.

The Citizen Action Coalition expects several utilities will come back to the state commission and ask for a rate change in the near future. 

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