CALL 6: Rising utility bills frustrate Hoosier families

Critics: 'Deck is stacked' against Ind. consumers

All this week on RTV6 at 6 p.m., Call 6 Investigates Kara Kenney is looking at the true Cost of Living in Indiana and how you can get ahead.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Many Hoosiers are paying upwards of $300, $400, even $500 a month for utilities--- things like water, gas, wastewater, and electric.

Utilities can be a difficult expense for many Hoosiers, because you need water and heat to survive, and you’re often locked in with who provides those services to your home.

Cindy Woytsek of Lawrence dreads opening her utility bills every month.

“It’s very stressful,” said Woytsek.

Woytsek pays $500 a month for utilities for an approximately 1,000 square foot home.

RELATED | Proposed water rate increase would double bill for Lawrence residents

Woytsek has two college degrees, but she makes approximately $25,000 a year working in customer service.

“We struggle from paycheck to paycheck and rob Peter to pay Paul,” said Woytsek.

Some times of the year are harder than others.

“Over the winter, I had a very hard time keeping up,” said Woytsek . “One month, I would pay the electric, the next month, I would pay the water. I’m always paying the late fees, the disconnects.”

PREVIOUS | CALL 6: Customers complain of high heating bills

The average Indianapolis homeowner pays about $300 a month for utilities, although that can vary wildly depending on which utilities you have and how much energy you consume.

The Citizens Action Coalition, a non-profit that advocates for affordable utility bills, tracks how much consumers are paying.

“We’ve seen utility bills, especially electric, water and wastewater increase significantly over the last 10 years,” said Kerwin Olson, executive director of Citizens Action Coalition.

Records show state lawmakers have accepted more than $3.1 million in campaign contributions over the last decade from the utility and energy industries.

“That translates into a stacked deck and an enormous influence for those folks,” said Olson. “One in every five contributions to the Indiana General Assembly came from the energy and utility lobbyists.”

The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission is tasked with approving or not approving rate increases.

“You can’t keep up with them,” said Olson. “There are so many filings that are so voluminous the public doesn’t stand a chance.”

But you can fight back against high utility bills, Olson said.

First of all, check your bill.

Many have trackers, or charges tacked on for things like building a coal gasification plant or pollution control.

If you have concerns about your bill, contact your utility directly.

Many gas, power, and water companies offer budget billing.

You can also contact your state lawmakers and let them know you’re concerned about rising utility bills.

You can also file a complaint with the IURC and the Office of Utility Consumer Counselor (OUCC).

Cindy Woytsek moved family in with her to help share utility costs.

But it’s still difficult to get ahead, as she currently owes the gas company $500.

Woytsek hopes her story will help shed light on rising utility bills in Indiana.

“I just don’t think the awareness is out there that people are struggling so bad,” said Woytsek.

All this week on RTV6 at 6 p.m., Call 6 Investigates Kara Kenney is looking at the true Cost of Living in Indiana and how you can get ahead.

 

FULL STATEMENT FROM INDIANA ENERGY ASSOCIATION:

Utility costs in general have risen in the last decade, primarily due to the need to add equipment on power plants to comply with stricter federal environmental rules and to invest in the facilities used to provide service.

Even with all of the required investment, the average daily cost for customers of Indiana’s electric utilities for 24/7 service is about $3.70 a day and for natural gas service is about $4.00 per day. While that cost is lower than many states, we know that a monthly electric and natural gas bills can still be a hardship for many customers. That’s why Indiana’s utilities offer financial assistance, bill payment options and energy efficiency programs to help customers manage costs.

Any cost passed on to customers goes through a thorough, public review process at the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission.

The role of the Indiana Energy Association is to represent the interests of both utility customers and the companies that serve them. As an organization, we advocate for public policies that ensure utilities are able to provide safe, reliable, environmentally compliant and affordable utility services that help drive economic development and improved quality of life for millions of Hoosiers across Indiana.

Mark T. Maassel

President

Indiana Energy Association

 

 

FULL STATEMENT FROM INDIANA UTILITY REGULATORY COMMISSION:

Of the more than 1,600 cases presented to the Commission in the last five years, the Commission has approved less than what the utility has requested in the majority of cases. As the Commission is a creature of statute, state law requires the Commission to allow utilities to recover certain costs. Among many factors influencing these costs, federal mandates from Washington have contributed to an increase in rates for Indiana customers.

Remembering that Commission is an administrative agency that hears evidence in cases filed before it and makes decisions based on the evidence presented in those cases, each case is different, complicated, and not as straight forward. Many cases, in fact, are settlements between the utilities including the OUCC, industrial groups, CAC, and other parties to the case.  And even then, the Commission will review each settlement and based on the evidence presented in that case and either approve in its entirety, deny in its entirety, or approve in part or deny in part.

An example of this was in 2007. Indiana Michigan Power (I&M) filed a rate case in 2007 requesting a revenue increase of $125.500 million. I&M subsequently settled with the OUCC, CAC, Fort Wayne, South Bend, and several industrial customers on a revenue increase of $44.167 million.  In our order, we modified the settlement agreement in several respects and approved a revenue increase of $41.630 million. The order outlines the changes we made to the settlement agreement on pages 45 – 51. 

Another example is in an Indiana American Water’s rate case (IURC Cause No. 44450), the utility requested an approximate 9.84% rate increase. In its final Order, the Commission approved a settlement agreement between the parties for a 2.55% increase, which is an approximate 74% decrease from their original request.

FULL STATEMENT FROM INDIANAPOLIS POWER AND LIGHT:

IPL remains a low-cost utility, maintaining the lowest residential rates among Indiana’s investor-owned utilities. Minimizing the impact on customer bills is always a priority. A number of factors contribute to the increase in the cost of electricity, including rate adjustments and other costs, which must always be approved by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, weather, and most of all consumption are all contributors to a customer’s monthly electric bill.

It’s common for customers to see an increase in household energy usage during the winter months due to the amount of energy used to heat homes. IPL understands that high bills can be a financial challenge, which is why we offer energy-efficient resources like PowerView, Home Energy Assessment and CoolCents to give customers the opportunity to manage energy usage and costs at IPLpower.com.

RESOURCES FOR CONSUMERS:

If you need help paying your bill, try calling 211 or contacting your township trustee’s office

http://www.connect2help211.org/

http://www.cagi-in.org

http://areaivagency.org

http://www.catholiccharitiesindpls.org

RESOURCES FROM DUKE ENERGY:

Budget Billing

https://www.duke-energy.com/home/billing/budget-billing

High Bill Alerts

https://www.duke-energy.com/home/billing/high-bill-alerts

Helping Hand program which provides customers financial aid during the winter

https://www.duke-energy.com/home/billing/special%20assistance/helping%20hand?jur=IN01

Tips on lowering your bill

https://www.duke-energy.com/home/savings

Energy calculator

https://www.duke-energy.com/home/savings/lower-my-bill-toolkit/savings-calculators

RESOURCES FROM CITIZENS ENERGY GROUP:

Get Help Paying Your Bill

http://www.citizensenergygroup.com/My-Home/Billing-Payments/Trouble-Paying-Your-Bill

Questions About Your Bill

https://www.citizensenergygroup.com/My-Account/Contact-Us

RESOURCES FROM IPL:

Payment Assistance

Payment Extensions—Customers can call our Customer Service line at 317-261-8222 to request a short-term or long-term payment extension.

Energy Assistance—Although the moratorium has ended for utility customers, they can call community centers in their neighborhoods, their Township Trustee offices, or Connect2Help at 2-1-1 for possible assistance.

Billing & Payment Options—Customers can sign up via their online account or by calling customer service.

Budget Billing—Pay the same amount each month for 11 months and settle the difference on the 12th month.

Preferred Billing Date—customers can choose a due date that’s convenient for them.

Home Energy Savings—Customers can manage energy use and their monthly bills by utilizing IPL PowerToolsTM.

IPL PowerView—This free resource provides actual daily energy use and determines habits that cost customers money, view bills over time, overlays actual weather factors, provides no-cost and low-cost recommendations for saving energy, sets up a customized energy-saving plan, and see how comparable households.

Home Energy Assessment—The free HEA and the installation of energy-saving equipment are available to our customers to help manage energy bills and improve energy efficiency in homes.

Home Energy Inspector—Complete and online questionnaire that analyzes your household’s energy use and you’ll receive a FREE energy efficiency kit.

RESOURCES FROM THE INDIANA OFFICE OF UTILITY CONSUMER COUNSELOR:

If consumers want to comment on a pending IURC case, the easiest way is through the OUCC’s electronic form at http://www.in.gov/oucc/2361.htm. We have an overview on consumer comments at http://www.in.gov/oucc/2370.htm.

Our office normally refers consumers who ask about financial assistance to 211. We also recommend that they contact their township trustees. And we recommend contacting local entities that oversee the low-income home energy assistance program (LIHEAP), most of which are community action agencies. In addition, we recommend that eligible consumers sign up for the federal Lifeline telephone assistance program.

All 3 of the state’s major natural gas utilities (Citizens Gas, NIPSCO, and Vectren) offer winter heating assistance programs in addition to the EAP, under agreements reached with the OUCC and approved by the IURC. The LIHEAP information page on the Indiana Housing & Community Development Authority’s (IHCDA’s) website has additional info and sources, as well.

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