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Heat Wave Stops Austin Energy From Cutting Power To Delinquent Customers

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Photo by Callie Hernandez for KUT News

This year’s oppressively hot Austin summer is sending electric bills skyrocketing, as people take shelter from the heat by cranking up the air conditioner. Not everybody can pay those bills when they arrive in the mail. But Austin Energy has not cut anyone’s power off since July 1, because of a policy during heat waves that was made more generous last year.

Before 2010, Austin Energy would not cut non-paying customers temperatures remained in the triple digits for five days, with five additional days of triple digits forecast.

Last year, the city-owned utility changed the threshold to include the heat index - the temperature that you feel after taking humidity into account.

The new system requires only one day with a 102 degree heat index and a subsequent 102 degree heat index in the forecast.  The sizzling July has meant Austin Energy hasn’t cut non-paying customers all month.

But the new policy is costing the utility. It is owed $13 million in delinquent payments this summer.

“We’re not expecting to lose money,” Austin Energy spokesman Carlos Cordova told KUT News. “We want to be able to collect that.”

Cordova says Austin Energy is implementing a payment program that allows people to make good on their past-due amounts over a six month period.

“It’s not a grace period,” he said. “When they enter this plan, they have to start paying a portion of what they’re behind on, plus their current bill.”

Customers can also average their bill out over an entire year, based on their previous year’s consumption. Austin Energy also offers assistance to low-income customers on certain social programs, with deductions up to 40 percent off their bills.

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