County officials address utility bill concerns
By Eason Franklin
The Lowndes Signal
Public officials have called a series of meetings to address what they say is a problem with high residential power bills in Lowndes County.
“We are currently working with Pioneer Electric in an effort to resolve concerns of county residents,” said Lowndes County EMA director and Mosses mayor Walter Hill. “We ask that everyone remain patient.”
Hill said county officials have fielded more than 500 complaints from customers of the electric cooperative, some with monthly utility bills recently reaching as high as $1,500.
Hill visited the Pioneer Board of Trustees on March 17, along with county commissioners Charlie King Jr. and Robert Harris.
According to a written response from the board dated March 24, several factors may cause fluctuations in monthly power bills including rates, billing cycles and consumption patterns.
In the letter, the trustees also acknowledged an equipment problem that led to some inaccurate meter readings and “abnormally high” bills.
Click HERE to read Pioneer’s Letter to Lowndes County Officials.
“We had an issue in February regarding handheld devices causing a doubling in bills for December and January,” said Pioneer General Manager Steve Harmon. “We are replacing those devices, implementing in-house auditing processes to identify potential problems and working with residents and making arrangements to make their bills more affordable.”
Lowndes County commissioner Marzett Thomas and Rep. James Thomas joined Hill, King and Harris to discuss the issue with residents at a recent meeting in Letohatchee.
Additional meetings are scheduled for April 20 at the White Hall town hall, April 22 at the Mosses town hall and April 27 at the New Salem Church in Braggs.
Pioneer offers assistance programs for those who meet certain criteria to help address potential causes of high utility bills.
Harmon said the U.S. Department of Agriculture granted funds to Pioneer to reduce high-energy usage by weatherizing homes of its members. Pioneer has already assisted in repairs to 130 homes.
“We are the only cooperative in America to secure this grant,” said Harmon. “We have $1.6 million to insulate consumer homes and install heating and air units to bring homes up to standard.”
Applications for the grant are available at the Lowndes County Commission office.
To qualify, residents must pay $2,500 per year or higher in power bills and meet income qualifications through the Organized Community Action Program (OCAP).