Louisville Gas and Electric has turned off the heat and electricity for more than 650 customers amid frigid January temperatures.
Another approximately 14,000 residential customers are on the brink, behind on payments and eligible for disconnection across the LG&E service territory. LG&E Spokeswoman Liz Pratt emphasized the data is fluid and changes based on customers’ circumstances.
With the onset of winter, LG&E customers are feeling the sting of a rate hike in heating prices due to the increased cost of natural gas. Those higher bills, compounded by the financial stresses imposed by the pandemic, are sinking low income Louisvillians further into debt, said Brandon O’Neal, Low-income Heating and Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) supervisor with Louisville Metro’s Office of Resilience and Community Services.
“What we are seeing are extremely high bills. The bills are somewhat astronomical. I’m seeing three, four thousand dollar bills. That’s abnormal,” O’Neal said. “It is bills that have over time, when people are out of work, when they can’t work, those bills mount up.”
Amid extreme low temperatures like last week’s winter storm, LG&E suspends disconnections for non-payment. That means the utility won’t process service orders to disconnect a customer on those days in most circumstances. That doesn’t mean they will turn the heat back on for those who have already been disconnected.
Pratt said LG&E, whose parent company reported $207 million in earnings in its most recent quarter, gives ample time to inform customers their power will be shut off before disconnecting them. That includes sending what’s known as a “brown bill” alerting customers the utility is planning to disconnect them for non-payment.
“What’s most important is customers must contact us right away if they think they may have difficulty paying their bill and not wait until their service has been disconnected,” Pratt said. “Once payment arrangements have been made, we then work diligently to get them reconnected as soon as possible.”
Louisville residents at risk of losing their power can sign up for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) through the Louisville Metro Office of Resilience and Community Services.
O’Neal said the federal government has provided $3.5 million to help residents keep the lights on and the heat running. The so-called LIHEAP Crisis Phase runs from Jan. 10 through the end of March, or until the funds run out.
To be eligible for that program, residents must live in Jefferson County, have a household income at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty guidelines — about $3,300 a month for a family of four — and have a past due amount on their bill.
“We help thousands, almost 25,000 people a year with heating their homes in these cold winter months,” O’Neal said.