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Utility Rates Take a Personal Note

LUB Board Members: Boxley, Hernandez, Leonard, Horning, Thrall

LUB Board Members: Boxley, Hernandez, Leonard, Horning, Thrall

As the legal process for the lawsuit between the City of Lamar and Arkansas River Power Authority, ARPA, continues, the individual impact of high electric rates on private citizens/customers was brought before the Lamar Utilities Board during their regular meeting, Tuesday, May 9th.

A mother and her adult son, residents relatively new to Lamar for less than a year, presented their case to the board members. They are living in an all-electric utility complex with assistance from the Lamar Housing Authority.  “Our apartment consists of two bedrooms, a living room and kitchen/dining area and this past month our electric bill came to $301.  I’m living on social security and we can’t afford to live like this anymore.  Lamar’s a wonderful town, but the utility rates make it unaffordable and we’re looking to move, but right now, I don’t know where,” she explained to the board.  She said she had been unable to get ‘level’ billing for her utilities when she requested them during an earlier visit to Lamar Light and Power in an effort to not have her electricity shut off.

Lisa Denman, LL&P Accountant, explained that in order to have the bills averaged out month to month for one steady payment, a customer needs to have an account for at least a year. “We don’t want to have someone who might have had a very different monthly bill averaged into yours.  That’s why we state a year has to pass before we can do that.  We don’t want to overcharge you,” she said.  Denman said a customer agreement is available to show you’re willing to pay down the bill which can help avert a shut-off. The woman replied that they’ve been in Lamar for the past ten months and may not be in town after the next two.  Light Plant Superintendent, Houssin Hourieh, said that something might be done working with a ten month average.  He said a guess can be made, but he didn’t want to be in error.  Hourieh also explained the breakdown from her requested recent energy audit which showed in her last bill as 1600 kilowatt hours of usage and $301 for electricity.

“We have walked around in the dark using candles for light. We have unplugged everything we own until we absolutely need it and it became very cold this past winter when the temperature inside was around 50 degrees.  We received a one-time subsidy to meet the monthly payment, but it was a once a year instance and we can’t go back to them.  It’s a little better with the warmer weather and longer days, but we just can’t continue to live like this,” she told the board.

The customer added that her problem is the amount of usage the bill is indicating. “We had a four bedroom house in Aurora with seven people living there and I think we had less usage there, than we do here and I can’t understand how this happens,” she said, adding that even with electric use at a minimum, the kilowatt usage continued to climb through the winter.  Despite the warmer weather and brighter days for longer periods, the bill is remaining pretty steady.  Although the manager had a new thermostat installed, she hasn’t run it yet because of the warmer weather and because of the provisions of her rental agreement, she cannot move to another unit, pending an emergency.

Hourieh explained that a crew will kill power to a location when they throw the main breaker at the meter and determine if there is any power draw against it, “But our authority stops at the meter. We can search for a faulty breaker, but we aren’t allowed to make any repairs, just recommendations on what we find,” he explained.  A crew from Lamar Light and Power checked the lights in the two bedrooms, she said, and one was drawing twice the power compared to the other.  Board members offered suggestions on reducing electric usage including checking the temperature setting on an electric hot water heater, which was described as being a contributing source with a setting that’s too high, usually above 120 degrees.  Another was the use of portable heaters which also draw a lot of power, “We’ve found some places that had three running in one room, and that’s a very high cost,” Hourieh explained.

The customer stated, “I feel you owe me some money back on my bill. Not all of it, of course, but a portion based on the usage.  I don’t know if we’re tied in to another unit or there’s an energy leak of some sort, but we won’t be able to pay down our bill by the end of the summer, even with less usage.”

By Russ Baldwin

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Filed Under: City of LamarConsumer IssuesEconomyFeaturedPublic SafetyUtilities

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