State's utility watchdog explains why bills going up

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 -- If you’re suffering from sticker shock when you open your utility bill, you are not alone.

As part of our Cost of Living series, Call 6 Investigates Kara Kenney found utility rates going up, and consumers frustrated by bills jumping wildly from month to month.

CALL 6 | Rising utility bills frustrate Hoosier families

Call 6 Investigates Kara Kenney sat down with the state’s utility watchdog, Bill Fine, for his first television media interview since Eric Holcomb appointed him in December 2016.

Fine, a former state lawmaker, currently serves as Indiana’s Utility Consumer Counselor.

When a utility, such as gas or electric, wants to increase your rates, Bill Fine and the 50 people in the Office of Utility Consumer Counselor represent consumers.

“We add a significant advantage to the process so they don’t just get walked over,” said Fine.

Governor Eric Holcomb appointed Fine.

Call 6 Investigates Kara Kenney asked Fine if he’s serving the Governor or the public.

“It’s an interesting question and I’ve been asked it a number of times,” said Fine. “I do serve at the will of the Governor, but I don’t proceed by checking with the Governor every time something has to be done.  I think the Governor would be happy with the job I’m doing and I think most consumers would be happy.”

Fine said they listen to a slew of concerns and complaints about utilities.

“I was in this job a week before my daughter called me and said ‘my bills are too high, what can you do about it for me Dad?’” said Fine. “So, we get constant feedback from people.”

Bills are going up because utilities are investing in alternative energy sources like wind and solar, as well as improving aging infrastructure, said Fine.

Those costs often get passed on to you, the consumer.

Call 6 Investigates Kara Kenney asked Fine if he’s doing enough to advocate for consumers struggling to pay their utility bills.

“It depends on your definition of advocate,” said Fine. “We’re actively representing consumers in all of these cases that directly impact the pocketbook.”

Fine points out there’s been a $1.2 billion gap between what the utilities have requested versus what they’ve obtained through proceedings at the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission.

“The utilities don’t get everything they want, although it may appear to some they do,” said Fine. “So, we are somewhat successful.”

If you have a gripe about your utility, Fine encourages you to file a complaint with his office as well as the IURC.

“You may really feel you don't have a say in the whole thing, but if you file something or go up to the microphone, that will be taken into account,” said Fine. “So you do have a right to participate, and participation does make a big difference."

Call 6 Investigates found per state statute the Office of Utility Consumer Counselor is supposed to have an advisory board.

Fine said Holcomb has yet to select a board.

“I’d be happy to work with the board if the Governor elects to choose one,” said Fine.

Call 6 Investigates is still waiting on a response from the Governor’s office about the utility counselor advisory board.

 

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.

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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