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Utility shut-offs start Wednesday

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Kayla Bunge
April 11, 2008
— The heating season may be coming to a close, but consumers still are reeling from the high cost of staying warm this winter.

Utility companies that serve Rock and Walworth counties have seen a bump in the number of people who have fallen behind on paying their bills, and come Tuesday—the end of the state-mandated moratorium on heat shutoffs that began Nov. 1—those people could be left in the cold.


To date, Alliant Energy has 65,000 disconnections scheduled, and WE Energies has 57,000 scheduled. And the unpaid bills are bigger than in years past.


But all hope is not lost.


“We’re not standing by waiting to flip a switch,” said Alliant Energy spokesperson Steve Schultz.


People can call the utility company to arrange for payment.


“As soon as a customer has called in to set up a payment plan, the disconnection notice is suspended,” said WE Energies spokesperson Irisoll Arce. “They have to follow through with payments, though.”


Both utility companies offer a number of bill payment options, including mail, phone and online payments, and both are willing to work with customers to make a payment arrangement that’s feasible.


“As long as we’re able to work with the customer and get a payment plan going, then we’re certainly not going to disconnect,” Schultz said. “Disconnection is really a last resort.”


And if people still are struggling, there’s help available for income-eligible households through the Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance Program (WHEAP).


Local energy assistance agencies have seen more people applying for assistance.


Almost 6,000 people in Rock County have received financial help.


The deadline to apply for energy assistance is May 15.


This hasn’t been an easy year for consumers who are trying to make ends meet. The rising costs of energy (gas and home heating fuel), food and health care, coupled with wages that can’t keep up, have forced households to pinch their pennies.


A past-due utility bill—and the threat of disconnection—has many people in a pickle.


“For many people, they’re stuck with the choice of: Do we get food this month or pay the utility bill?” Schultz said.


That’s why the utility companies want to work with customers.


“We understand that those are factors for our customers making it more difficult for them to pay,” Arce said.


TO GET HELP

Behind on your utility bill? Here’s what you should do to avoid being disconnected:


Step 1: Call the utility company to make a payment arrangement.


-- Alliant Energy: 1-800-327-2708


-- WE Energies: 1-800-842-4565


Step 2: Call to see if you’re eligible for energy assistance.


-- Rock County: (608) 363-9200


-- Walworth County: (262) 741-3337



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