Orlando Sentinel: “Duke Energy to resume disconnecting customers behind on payments”

Duke Energy next week will resume disconnecting customers for nonpayment as advocacy groups are intensifying demands for a statewide moratorium on disconnections and debt forgiveness for low-income customers during the pandemic.

As Central Florida’s largest power provider, Duke was part of a widespread move among utilities in March that suspended cutting off electricity to customers unable to pay their bills as COVID-19 strangled the region’s economy and employment.

Many utilities, including those owned municipally in Orlando, Winter Park and Kissimmee, returned to disconnects earlier this summer, while Duke and Florida Power & Light Co. continued to suspend disconnects.

“As financial assistance has become available for qualified customers, we believe now is the right time to begin resuming more traditional operations,” Catherine Stempien, Duke Energy’s Florida president, said in a statement. “We will, however, continue to help our customers access resources to assist them and provide additional information that can help reduce their bills.”

Duke has 380,000 customers in Orange, 158,000 in Seminole, 86,000 in Lake, 82,000 in Volusia, 50,000 in Osceola and a few hundred in Brevard.

Florida Power & Light Co., the state’s largest electric utility, has not announced plans to end its pandemic-support measures of suspending disconnections and waiving late fees.

Several environmental and social-justice groups and state legislators are calling on Gov. Ron DeSantis and the utility-regulating Florida Public Service Commission to reform utility practices during the pandemic.

The “Connected in Crisis” coalition is urging a ban on disconnections through January, debt forgiveness for low-income customers and adoption of best-practices guidelines for utility customers’ debt management.

Those calling for the measures are Catalyst Miami, The CLEO Institute, EarthJustice, Florida Conservation Voters, League of United Latin American Citizens, New Florida Majority, Organize Florida, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, St. Johns Riverkeeper, state Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, and state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami.

“COVID-19 is a twin health and economic crisis, and the pandemic has caused cascading effects in communities that are already facing the deadly impacts of climate change,” Rodriguez said. “With rising temperatures and intensified weather events, now is not the time to be shutting off people’s power.”

Duke Energy is providing online platforms where customers can choose an extended payment program and get information on community agencies that can help pay electricity charges. The utility also is offering professional guidance to small businesses.

Duke will continue until November to waive fees for credit and debit card and walk-in payments.

“If customers don’t take action now, those opportunities may not be available in the future,” Duke spokeswoman Ana Gibbs said. Customers should call 800-700-8744 or go to duke-energy.com/ExtraTime

Gibbs said that about 88,000 customers are at least two months behind in power bills and could be disconnected.

The Orlando Utilities Commission has been disconnecting nearly 3,000 customers a week, reconnecting more than 90 percent of them within a day but observing that at least 200 customers remain disconnected for weeks.

Providing power and water, OUC is the state’s second-largest municipal utility, with nearly 215,000 residential customers and 26,000 commercial customers.

View the original article here.

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