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CALL 6: Customers complain of high heating bills

CALL 6: Customers complain of high heating bills
Posted at 5:34 PM, Jan 20, 2017

INDIANAPOLIS -- Utility customers are complaining about unusually high heating bills arriving in the mail this month.

Southside homeowner Stacy Carey was shocked to receive a bill from Indianapolis Power and Light for $334.

“I was blown away, because that’s a 50% increase from last month,” said Carey.

Carey keeps the thermostat at 73 degrees, and expected her bill to go up a little bit, but not that much.

“I know my bill would go up maybe $40 or $50, but for it to jump substantially for one person living in a 3,500 square foot home, there’s no way,” said Carey.

Carey contacted IPL, who is sending someone out to check her meter.

"You have the people that can't get energy assistance, what are they to do?” said Carey. “I'm lucky that I'm employed and that I'm able to withstand whatever may come, but others can't."

Call 6 Investigates heard from apartment renters and homeowners with similar concerns about high energy bills for December usage, including a woman who rents a 2 bedroom apartment who received a bill for nearly $300.

IPL spokesperson Claire Dalton explained cold December temperatures are largely to blame for the increase.

The average temperature in December 2015 was 43 degrees, but only 30 degrees in December 2016.

The average temperature in November 2016 was 48 degrees, which also explains why customers saw an increase from November to December.

“Cold weather can affect energy usage as nearly 47 percent of energy is used during winter months to heat homes,” said Dalton. “There are many other factors that can also influence electric consumption. For example, winter school break (more laundry, lights on, gaming system use, TV streaming, cooking, charging devices, in and out traffic), holiday lights, and entertaining guests are just a few other examples of a household’s behavior  can attribute to energy use during December.”

Call 6 Investigates also checked with Duke Energy, and spokesperson Lew Middleton also pointed to colder December temperatures last month as reason for higher energy bills.

“For customers who have electric heat, versus natural gas furnaces, the difference in energy bills could be quite noticeable,” said Middleton. “Also, keep in mind that in December, many consumers change their electric usage patterns. For example, holiday activities, guests in the home, additional cooking, new electronics and / or appliances can all add up to extra usage that customers quickly forget about.”

The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, a watchdog agency for utilities, has received nine complaints about high heating bills from IPL customers and four complaints from Duke Energy customers.

“This number of complaints regarding high heating bills is typical for winter months,” said Megan Wade-Taxter, IURC Public Relations Manager.

Taxter said if you feel your bill is too high, contact your utility first.

If that doesn’t resolve the issue, you can contact IURC, which serves as a liaison between the utilities and consumers.

You can file a complaint against your utility with IURC at (800) 851-4268 or online.

Dalton said IPL offers many payment options for its customers.

“For those customers who are having difficulties paying their bills, we offer short term and long term extensions, which neither charge interest,” said Dalton. “Short term extensions allow a customer to have his/her disconnect date extended for a few additional days to allow time for him/her to make the payment to us. Long term extensions allow a customer to pay the balance of his/her bill over 3-4 months with an initial payment of a $10 minimum. “