The Iowa Utilities Board held a workshop this morning in Des Moines to talk about the huge amount of money Iowans owe to natural gas companies. Board spokesman Ron Hillesland says the amount owed has jumped from 22-million dollars last year to 41-and-a-half-million dollars this year. Hillesland held today’s hearing to get a better handle on the situation. He says the board has not made any decisions yet. Utility companies are prevented from cutting off the gas to customers with overdue bills until April 1st. Hillesland says the emphasis on the cutoff date has been exaggerated.He says the gas companies aren’t going to magically shut the gas off to thousands of Iowans on April 1st. He says they’re most worried about those customers who’ve run up huge bills and haven’t made any attempts to pay in the last year. Hillesland says some of today’s discussion centered on helping customers get caught up. They discussed adding a second payment arrangement for customers, or extending their first payment plan beyond 12 months. He says a five-person team of I-U-B staff members is working on a recommendation for the board. He says the team will look at all the information and try to make a recommendation to the board before the April 1st deadline. Hillesland says the board has to look out for both sides.The board has to see that the utilities are able to legally get the money they’re owed for providing the gas. He says the utility companies have not benefited from the higher costs of gas this winter. Hillesland says there are 38 utility companies that’re involved in the discussion.
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