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07/20/2011 Most utilities won't shut off customers during extreme heat

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Herald-Whig Staff Writer


As Mother Nature turns up the heat, most residents of the region won't have to worry about the electric company turning off their power.


Many of the utilities in West-Central Illinois and Northeast Missouri have policies in place that prohibit shutting off electricity when temperatures are in the 90s or the National Weather Service is warning of excessive heat -- in other words, during the kind of prolonged heat that has gripped the region.


Both Illinois and Missouri have laws in place that prevent utilities from shutting off customers for nonpayment during winter, but many utilities have policies in place for summertime shutoffs, as well.


Leigh Morris of Ameren Illinois, which along with Ameren Missouri is the predominant power supplier in the region, said the company has not disconnected any residential electric customers for nonpayment this week "and I wouldn't be surprised if that doesn't continue all week long."


He attributed that to an Ameren policy prohibiting shutoffs for nonpayment during heat advisories, excessive heat warnings or periods when temperatures reach the mid-90s.


Disconnections in response to customer requests, safety concerns and fraud suspicions will continue.


"If you have a past-due bill and you have a disconnect notice, we're not going to act on that at this time," Morris said.


Neither will the Adams County Electric Cooperative, which will not disconnect for nonpayment during an excessive heat warning or when the temperature climbs above 95.


"Once the temperature drops below that 95, I think we even take some leeway, knowing that's pretty darn hot," said Bill Stalder, the co-op's manager of marketing and member services.


The Hannibal (Mo.) Board of Public Works, which purchases wholesale power from Ameren, echoed that policy, but has a more generous take on the temperature. When the temperature is scheduled to top 90 degrees, customers scheduled for a shutoff receive a door tag granting them an extra five days to pay the bill.


However, that doesn't stop the BPW from shutting off the power at the end of those five days whether the temperature has dropped or not, General Manager Bob Stevenson concedes.


"When that five days are up, if they haven't paid and it's still hot, we cut them off anyway," Stevenson said, citing the city's need to pay its electric supplier.


Most utility customers have a month to pay their bill before the shutoff notices arrive.


At the same time that utilities have a certain degree of mercy on their customers, they must also keep a close eye on the amount of electricity their customers use to keep cool in order to prevent their electrical systems from overloading, which could lead to power outages.


Adams County instituted load control on the afternoon of July 11, shutting off power to electric water heaters and cycling air conditioning on and off for its customers. That allows the co-op to control the amount of electricity being used so that it doesn't set a new peak, which stresses its electrical capacity.


Stalder said the co-op doesn't have plans to control load this week, but its wholesale supplier, Prairie Power of Jacksonville, must make that call.


In Hannibal, Stevenson said there's enough wiggle room between the city's typical peak load of about 65 megawatts and the electrical system's capacity of 100 megawatts that no one should lose power even in part because of a spike in electrical consumption. However, he cautioned that any disruption in Ameren's transmission system outside city limits could always change that.


"We don't expect any brownouts, and we're not planning on any, but stuff does happen from time to time that we have to react to," Stevenson said.


Ameren's Morris said he doesn't foresee any problems in Ameren's system with full or partial power loss as a result of any increased consumption.


Ultimately, Morris said, times of excessive heat like these are when energy efficiency measures start to come into play, with the differences becoming clearer between energy consumption levels -- and, by extension, bills -- for customers who are working to save energy and for those who haven't taken those steps.

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