August 13, 2008
Moratorium on power cutoffs urged

The last thing you'd want to have happen during the hot summer months is to have your electricity cut off.

Lawmakers and consumer advocates have asked the Texas Public Utility Commission to impose a moratorium that would prevent companies from disconnecting electricity this summer, especially for people more susceptible to the heat.

A petition filed last week asks the commission to impose emergency rules similar to temporary measures enacted in 2006 to protect critical-care patients, low-income elderly and low-income customers.

"One message that we want to put out, especially to our seniors and those who are critical-care patients, and that is, 'Turn on your air,' " state Rep. Sylvester Turner said at a news conference in Acres Homes. "If you have air conditioning, turn it on and allow people like myself and others to work on your behalf in dealing with your bills."

I'm not much of a fan of Sylvester Turner, but this is an issue he's done a lot of work on. He tried, unsuccessfully, to safeguard the System Benefit Fund, which helps low-income folks deal with higher utility bills, from being raided for general revenue; though the bill he filed had broad support in the Lege but was delayed and ultimately derailed by a point of order by Robert "The Torpedo" Talton.

Though Turner focused on low-income and critical-care customers, the petition calls for a moratorium on disconnections for all customers unable to pay high summer bills. Turner said a deferred payment plan should be in place for people struggling to pay their full bills.

The Harris County Medical Examiner's Office has recorded five heat-related deaths this year, said Matt Doyle, a senior forensic nurse investigator. In North Texas, the heat has been blamed for at least four deaths.

This is a big deal, as anyone who remembers the devastating Chicago heat wave of 1995 can attest. If we can make it through this summer, and hopefully get the System Benefit Fund fully restored next session, we'll be in much better shape going forward. In the meantime, taking this step now to minimize the likelihood of someone dying from the heat in their home is a good idea.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 13, 2008 to Budget ballyhoo
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