NORTH NEWTON TWP. — This past week, Ingeborg Eshelman went to Adams Electric Cooperative to pay her monthly electricity bill of $277. It was then she was asked how she was going to pay for the other bill of about $1,600.
Eshelman was told she has until today to pay a minimum of $1,000 for back electricity costs owed by her adult son or her power will be shut off. Her son does not live with her, but rather down the road in North Newton Township.
“I’m on a fixed income,” she said. “I need a pacemaker, but I’m putting that off because I’m raising my grandson who has a handicap.”
The issue — on top of facing an imminent outage — is that Eshelman has no other option for electricity.
Eshelman is also having difficulty filing a complaint about the situation. Unlike public utilities, such as PPL and Met-Ed, Adams Electric Cooperative is a rural electric association, which are not regulated by the Public Utilities Commission.
Co-ops are private and locally-operated. In these organizations, the consumers of the electricity are the shareholders and are responsible for electing its own board of directors, who then regulate the organization.
Duane Kanagy, manager of communications at Adams Electric Cooperative, said the PUC does not regulate co-ops because the consumers they want to protect are the “members” of the organization.
“Penelec or PPL are owned by shareholders, who may not be consumers,” he said. “The PUC oversight (is there) to protect consumer interest. With co-ops, the consumer is a member — they’re one in the same.”
Kanagy said he could not comment on an individual case, such as Eshelman, and said he “cannot say one way or another” if Adams Electric has threatened family members with a service outage if another family member does not pay his or her bills.
Eshelman said she was told there were bylaws each consumer signs that
indicate Adams Electric could enforce payment if the person with the unpaid bills used her address. She said her son at one point lived with her, but doesn’t anymore.
Kanagy noted there are methods in which consumers can get financial help for bill payment, but it’s also important that the co-op enforce late or non-payments.
“We’ll help them as well as we can, but they have to hold up their side of the bargain,” said Kanagy, who is a consumer of Adams Electric himself. “(If consumers don’t pay), other members have to bear that cost. We don’t have deep pockets to fall back on.”
©2014 The Sentinel (Carlisle, Pa.)
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