BPU makes minor change to cold weather rule

A slight change was made Monday to the BPU’s cold weather rule.

A freeze warning was in the forecast Monday night when the Board of Public Utilities passed a small change to its cold weather rule.

The cold weather rule states that electricity cannot be disconnected when the temperature is forecast to be at or less than 32 degrees in the next 24 hours.

The change unanimously passed on Monday night modified the wording from “remain at or below 32” to “be at or below 32 in the next 24 hours.” That could result in slightly fewer customers’ utilities being shut off.

There was little discussion at Monday night’s meeting around the change, but earlier, BPU board members had discussed it at committee meetings and work sessions for some months.

At the Oct. 5 BPU board meeting, board vice president Rose Mulvany Henry recalled that during a presentation June 22, BPU staff stated that 71 percent of the customers who were disconnected were reconnected the next day.

Even though the National Weather Service predicted a low of 25 tonight, the cold weather rule will not apply this week. It is only in effect from Nov. 1 to March 31, a provision of the policy that did not change.

With the coming of the cold weather, options are narrowing for customers who do not have the funds to pay their utility bills. A state assistance program, the Kansas Emergency Rental Assistance program (KERA), announced last week that its utility and rental assistance program was on hold, having spent its funding. “KERA has now received enough applications to exhaust all funds and has entered the Hold Phase,” a news release from the program stated. Any applications that come in now will not be reviewed or processed until enough funds become available, according to the news release. When all funds are exhausted, the program will close and will stop accepting new applications, according to the release.

The BPU board did not make other changes Monday that have been advocated by community activists recently.

According to the BPU’s customer service policies listed online, there is a $10 electric disconnection fee and a late payment charge of 5 percent of the outstanding bill. These are paid along with the outstanding balance.

Activists request action

Appearing at a Unified Government Commission meeting on Thursday, Oct. 13, Louise Lynch, a Kansas City, Kansas, resident, told the commission that the charter needed to be changed, and she also had discussed changes that she believes should be made at the BPU at a previous UG meeting. She also talked about a UG commissioner’s response to her and how she and her family felt afraid; for more information, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gfSJcBh3rhg.

Lynch has advocated for the BPU to stop disconnecting customers who have medical equipment powered by electricity.

Ty Gorman, a Kansas City, Kansas, resident who has represented the Sierra Club, said at the Oct. 13 meeting that he and volunteers have been working the past couple of years to get BPU to stop disconnecting people who will be in medical danger from disconnections.

Gorman asked the UG Commission to help engage the community in a planning process, a measure similar to one that was passed in Kansas City, Missouri, in 2005. He said the community needs to receive access to federal grant funding that could allow the BPU to get the bills paid without having to threaten to cut people’s electricity off.

As the KERA program ends this month, it will become even more important, he said. While there are other community programs that help residents with utility expenses, the other programs often run out of money, according to Gorman.

The planning process also would allow the community to engage in a climate action plan or climate mitigation plan, he added.

BPU bills will look like they’re increasing

The BPU board also heard from general manager Bill Johnson that BPU bills will look like they’re increasing in the future, as the UG Commission recently approved rate increases for certain UG fees included on the bills, such as trash collection and stormwater.

BPU board member Bob Milan Sr. said that the BPU had nothing to do with the fee increases, but the BPU will be criticized by people who see their BPU bills increasing because of the UG rate hikes.