Roughly 30,000 residential customers of Duke Energy Florida and Tampa Electric Co. had their power shut off in October after the state’s investor-owned utilities resumed disconnections for people who haven’t paid their bills.
That’s up about 8 percent from the same month a year ago, as the coronavirus pandemic maintained its grip on the U.S., forcing employers to shutter their workplaces and layoff employees to contain the spread.
Most customers — about 86 percent ― managed to have their service restored. But 4,000 residential customers remained without power at the end of the month, according to the most recent state regulatory filings.
While the numbers aren’t significantly different than this time last year, Bradley Marshall, a lawyer with advocacy group Earthjustice, noted that the actual number of people affected is much larger. Multiple members of a household, for example, are part of the single account for that home.
“The point is you shouldn’t be turning off people’s electricity during a pandemic,” he said. “People are being told they’re not able to see their families over Thanksgiving, but if their power’s off, they’re going to be doubling up.”
As of October, nearly 4 percent of Duke Energy’s residential customers around the state were on some form of a payment plan, the average length of which was just over 7 months. Tampa Electric reported that 2.5 percent of its customers were on a payment plan averaging 42 days.
This fall, as power companies around the state began to announce that they would resume disconnections, several advocacy groups brought a legal challenge before the Florida Public Service Commission to try and halt the shutoffs. It would have worked similarly to the federal eviction moratorium.
Lawmakers, too, called for an outright moratorium on power shutoffs during the pandemic.
State regulators denied the requests, calling it “unnecessary.”
Part of the reason numbers haven’t spiked more significantly is because the utilities are reaching out more proactively to customers who are in need and offering payment plans and other forms of assistance. Duke Energy, for example, launched a pilot program that sent texts and voice messages to 500 customers in an attempt to have them reach out to the utility and discuss options.
“For us as a company, every single customer matters,” spokeswoman Ana Gibbs said. “We know our customer are still facing these financial hardships. We want our customers to contact us.”
Tampa Electric declined to comment.
Duke Energy reported $7.3 million in unpaid bills and fees between March and October, about 13 percent of which was from October, while Tampa Electric said it had $4.1 million of bad debt, 5 percent of which was from October.
For assistance options, Duke Energy customers can call 800-700-8744 or visit https://www.duke-energy.com/Home/Billing/Special-Assistance, and Tampa Electric customers can visit https://www.tampaelectric.com/updates/ or call 888-223-0800.
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