Despite the ice and snow that coated much of Iowa with last week’s bitterly cold temperatures, the state’s largest utility reports it is not seeing a drastic rise in customers slacking off on paying their power bills. Mark Reinders, spokesman for MidAmerican Energy, says shutting off someone’s gas or electricity is a drastic step.
"Our customers seem to be at about the same spot as they were last year in terms of being behind on payments," Reinders says, "it’s not an abnormally different year. Part of the benefit has been that the temperatures have been fairly decent for most of October and November. It’s hard to imagine that right now, but they were fairly pleasant so the bills didn’t spike up too fast."
While laws vary from state to state, Reinders says they have to follow certain rules to avoid shutting off someone’s vital services during the cold months. Reinders says: "We do have policies in place, but some customers are protected from disconnect. The only ones that are really in danger have made no effort to communicate with us or to pay in any shape or form. Communication is the factor we really consider. If a customer is willing to work with us, that’s the key."
He says MidAmerican makes several attempts to reach customers that fall behind in paying their bills, including placing notices on their doors. Reinders says the utility communicates in several ways, including through phone calls and the "door hangers," so customers have several notifications before it gets to the disconnect. He says the shut-off situation does neither the customer nor the company any good so it’s always a last resort. Des Moines-based MidAmerican has about 625,000 electric customers in Iowa along with 543,000 natural gas customers.