From Scott Carlberg

When the pandemic grew and the economy shrank, utility companies declared that paying for power could be put on hold. Compassion was front row as families were between a rock and hard place.

Lots of these plans were to last until mid-summer. Now that it is mid-summer companies and politicians are looking ahead.

North Carolina made the news recently as Governor Roy Cooper said his order #142 that prevents shutoffs for unpaid utility bills goes until July 31 and is not likely to be extended.

Within the NC government others say the order puts small cities and utilities they own under duress. In one case, Elizabeth City it applied for relief when it said it was nearing bankruptcy.

Near Charlotte, Statesville’s Energy United has roughly 10% of customers behind on payments. That’s five times what it usually is at this time of year. This is from a WFAE radio story. It’s about $2.7 million owed since March, and usually $500 or less.

The NC Utilities Commission (right) said between April and May 878,941 residential customer accounts were eligible to be disconnected but had not been. The late fees and penalties totaled $10,039,546.

In Virginia the alert went up in May about the impact on the unpaid bills, especially in cooperatives. It “could affect the ability of (smaller) utilities to continue providing vital services,” because these utilities only have members to recoup their money – no investors. Members are pressed. (Source)

Around the country there are cities and states are trying to set their budgets for 2021. That increases the need to have answers for utility payment holidays for publicly owned systems.

In the short run companies can defer maintenance and cut the workforce. Some of those companies may have been lean anyway. Not a lot of room to cut.

Wild cards are most perplexing. When the 1918 pandemic came back for its second wave it was six times worse. Many newscasts today speculate on a second wave of COVID. Recently a new strain of swine flu has been reported in China.

While job gains have been significant and a bit surprising immediately after the steep drop in the economy, that may not last.

So, drawing a straight line to relief – bills will get paid and people will be healthy and back to work – may be a push. Those companies in tough shape might want to have their homework done for financial lifelines that do not add stress to people genuinely under pressure already.

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Feature image credit: Center for Disease Control