RACINE COUNTY — Those who have been putting off payments on their energy bills over the winter months will need to make arrangements soon, as We Energies’ winter heating shut-off moratorium ends Monday.
This year, Racine saw one of the harshest winters in recent memory. When the polar vortex arrived, “real feel” temperatures plunged to 51 degrees below zero when wind chill was factored in, and air temperatures plunged to 22 degrees below on Jan. 30.
The cold snap inevitably led to high bills. As the moratorium ends, many struggling residents are left wondering how to tackle paying their gas and electric bills.
Wisconsin law mandates that utility service providers are not allowed to disconnect energy for any customers for nonpayment between Nov. 1 and April 15 if the energy provides the primary heat source for the residence.
According to Alison Trouy, a We Energies spokeswoman, 4,000 to 5,000 people are at immediate risk of disconnection. “Those are the people who have not paid their bills is a long time,” Trouy said. Disconnections are set to begin on Tuesday.
However, Trouy said those who have fallen behind on their bills should not panic, and should instead contact We Energies directly to handle the problem. “We are not trying to disconnect people,” Trouy said. “We just want people to give us a call.”
We Energies is working with customers to set up arrangements for their accounts. Options include flexible payment plans, budget billing and minimum payment.
We Energies also provides exceptions for those with medical or protective services emergencies. There is a 21-day disconnection delay for those who provide proof.
“This proof can be a statement from a licensed physician, or a notice from a public health, social services or law enforcement official, which identifies the emergency condition or situation that exists in the home and specifies the period of time during which disconnection will aggravate the circumstances,” We Energies’ website states.
Those who need to make arrangements are asked to call We Energies Customer Care at 800-842-4565.
According to the Division of Energy, Housing and Community Resources, in fiscal year 2017-18, a total of $5,331,253 in energy assistance benefits were provided to 10,095 Racine County households.
Of those households, 532 received some type of fixed income, including Social Security, Supplemental Security Inc., etc.
Approximately 73% of households had some type of earned or self-employment income, with about 70% receiving some type of assistance, such as health care, Foodshare, etc.
Timothy Bruer, executive director of Energy Services Incorporated, said the Energy Services office has been receiving nearly 200 calls a day as the Monday deadline approaches.
“With the record cold, we know people are choosing between eating and heating and they are ignoring other survival needs.” Bruer said. “We don’t want people to do that.”
The Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance Program assists with electric and heating costs. To contact energy services, call 262-633-6000 or visit their office at 1717 Taylor Ave.
Those who have received WHEAP during the last heating season may also be eligible for weatherization services for their home. For more information, go to 262-898-8036.
For more information about the WHEAP program and other electric assistance programs, go to homeenergyplus.wi.gov.
The Keep Wisconsin Warm/Cool Fund is a statewide non-profit charity that assists low-income households who cannot afford to pay their energy bills. For more information, go to kwwf.org or call 1-800-891-WARM.