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IL Moratorium on Utility Shutoffs Ends, Natural Gas Prices Spike


Thursday, April 1, 2021   

CHICAGO -- As a state moratorium on utility shutoffs comes to an end, more than 800,000 customers in Illinois are behind on their utility bills and potentially subject to having their service cut off.

Consumer advocates urged residents to contact their utility companies as soon as possible, to find out what payment options and assistance are available, through the utilities themselves or the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

Jim Chilsen, director of communications for the Citizens Utility Board, said the moratorium ending doesn't mean everyone immediately gets shut off; rather, the utility companies are sending out disconnection notices, starting with customers who are most in arrears.

"The last thing anyone needs in the middle of a pandemic is to lose your electricity or heat," Chilsen acknowledged. "And we also have a message for utility companies: This is a time to be good corporate citizens, and to do everything they can to keep their customers connected."

Customers in Black and Hispanic ZIP codes are four times more likely to be disconnected for non-payment, according to a report from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Chilsen noted people earning up to 300% of the federal poverty level will be protected from disconnection until June 30. For a family of four, that's a bit less than $80,000 a year.

Several major Illinois utilities are also increasing residential natural-gas prices this month, ranging from 35% to nearly 70%.

Chilsen explained it's because of unprecedented cold in February and limited supply, after wellheads and gas pipes froze across the southern United States.

"The cheapest therm of natural gas is the therm of natural gas that you don't waste," Chilsen emphasized. "So we're telling people, absolutely practice energy efficiency at home to control your costs during this month."

He added utility companies don't make increased profit off of the price hike; it's the producers and marketers who supply gas to the utilities.

And he pointed out the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is
investigating possible market manipulation after the Texas power grid failure.

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