Complaints About High Heating Bills

A large, unhappy crowd of some thirty people attended last night’s Laurens Commission of Public Works meeting and voiced concern with high utility bills, following the recent period of very cold weather. Many either arrived too late to sign-in for the public comment time, or didn’t heed the instructions, and this caused more discontent in the crowd.  On a motion from Commissioner Gerald Abercrombie, the Commission voted to waive that policy for last night’s meeting so folks could speak.

General Manager John Young showed a power point presentation explaining why the bills were abnormally high. It included media headlines about how exceptionally frigid and unusual such temperatures were this winter, and how it meant higher bills all over South Carolina. Young provided documentation showing the CPW had much higher bills in purchasing gas and electricity used by its customers during the extended period of very cold weather. This included the CPW’s cost for the natural gas used in January at about twice what would be expected. Just short of a million dollars, the CPW paid $952, 792.45 for natural gas used by its customers.

The presentation explained ways the CPW helps customers with high bills, including an estimated budget plan to level the cost of utilities across the year. It also explained the advantages of having a home evaluated for its energy efficiency.

Last night’s public comment time went past the 30 minutes allocated. One comment, like most last night, was “I can’t afford these high bills, and something needs to be done.” One woman voicing her concern on the high bills said she has ten children and six grandchildren. There was also concern expressed about their bill being higher than their neighbor who, they said, used the same amount of energy.

The Commissioners were asked if they were granted special utility rates, one man accusing them of not knowing what it’s like to pay such high bills.

Commissioners responded that they pay the same rates as everyone else. Chairman Parker Moore said that everyone who spoke would be contacted to assist with their issues. He also said that one important help to aid in utility rates would be more growth in the city, which has been stagnant for the last 12 to 15 years.

The CPW has recommended controlling heating costs by not setting your thermostat above 65 degrees, and checking to ensure you have proper insulation, and that your heating system is properly maintained.

John Young said that in addition to having to purchase the natural gas and electricity that is resold to CPW customers, there have been other, exceptional costs of maintaining the system that distributes utilities. He noted over $80,000 of extra expense in 2017 by CPW employees having to locate natural gas lines for the ongoing expansion of fiber-optic cables being installed by PRTC. He also cited costs of additional requirements from government, such as $250,000 last year for moving gas lines for new sidewalks being installed in the Watts Mill area.

John Young reminded folks last night that with the Community Change program, the CPW matches contributions of customers to help people pay utility bills. He said that program raised $8,000 last year for the Baptist Crisis Center to help folks with their bills.

Two people voiced complaints about the Crisis Center last night, one saying when she contacted them, the money was gone. Another complained about calls to the center not being answered.

While most concerns expressed last night were about the cost of heating, there were a couple complaints about water bills. One person said “I’ve been a plumber for five years and I know my water bill is wrong.” There was also a complaint about the automated water-meter reading, indicating they wanted to see a person read the meter. Young has pointed out the remote reading saves money by not having to pay people to walk from home to home reading meters.