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Despite Heat Wave, Utility Shutoffs Loom for 1 Million in NC

North Carolinians who are behind on their utility bills could be disconnected when the shutoff moratorium expires Saturday. (Adobe Stock)
North Carolinians who are behind on their utility bills could be disconnected when the shutoff moratorium expires Saturday. (Adobe Stock)
July 29, 2020

RALEIGH, N.C. -- As temperatures soar above 100 degrees in some regions, more than 1 million North Carolina households could lose access to air conditioning or running water when the state's ban on utility shutoffs expires Saturday.

Rory McIlmoil, senior energy analyst at Appalachian Voices, said Gov. Roy Cooper sent a letter to utilities on July 17, stating he would not extend the moratorium that's been in place under an executive order since May.

"And that the only additional protection that would be in place would be a requirement that utilities offer a minimum of six months for customers to pay any unpaid debt that they had accrued during the moratorium," McIlmoil explained.

In the past three months, the North Carolina Division of Public Health reported, more than 1,200 residents with heat-related illness have been rushed to hospital emergency rooms. The elderly, low-income households and people with pre-existing conditions are the most vulnerable to heat-related health problems.

McIlmoil said prior to the pandemic, nearly 40% of North Carolinians qualified for federal home energy-assistance programs, and he believes COVID-19 has exposed a long-standing problem in the state over water, electric and gas bills that aren't affordable. He said residents worried about their bills should contact their utility companies now.

"To set up a payment plan that can meet their needs; and just really, they need to be pushing their utilities and the governor to offer a more flexible, long-term payment plan where, even with a debt repayment charge, it doesn't increase their future bill by 10%," McIlmoil said. "Something like that would at least smooth out the impact for folks."

Joel Porter, policy manager at Clean Air Carolina added the coronavirus has underscored the need to integrate more renewable energy sources into the state's grid.

"If we have cleaner sources of energy, more renewable resources of energy, then you're not going to have people struggling to pay their bills like they are now," Porter said.

Advocacy groups across the state are urging federal lawmakers to pass a national shutoff moratorium as part of the next COVID-19 relief package.

Disclosure: Clean Air Carolina contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Energy Policy, Environment and Environmental Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - NC