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New utility cutoff protections for Virginians during extreme heat kick in July 1

Carolina Power employees work on replacing older powerlines in Richmond's Southside.
Brad Kutner
/
Radio IQ
Carolina Power employees work on replacing older powerlines in Richmond's Southside.

A heat dome is setting up over Virginia, just a few days shy of a new law that aims to protect those who can’t pay their utility bills. While it may come a bit late this month, those protections could make a difference in the months ahead.

The idea started during the COVID-19 pandemic. As people lost their jobs, they also lost the ability to pay their utility bills. It was an issue that stood out to Kajsa Foskey with the Virginia Poverty Law Center.

“Utilities were shutting people off during a time when everyone needed to stay home, everyone needed access to power and water, things that would keep them healthy and safe,” Foskey told Radio IQ.

Understanding how often utility shutoffs occur was hard because reporting on disconnections isn’t required. But numbers obtained by Energy Justice Lab’s Utility Disconnections Dashboard found about ½ of 1% of utility customers faced a shutoff during the past five years.

That led Senator Lashrecse Aird to work with Delegate Irene Shin to come up with a pair of bills that forbid utility shutoffs during states of emergency and extreme heat (above 92 degrees) and extreme cold (below 32 degrees). It also forbids disconnections on holidays and Fridays which could leave someone without power for days.

“If we’re experiencing an extreme weather event, in this case the heat, we want people to know they have rights, they have protections, in this case from getting their utilities disconnected,” Senator Aird said.

The bill sailed through both legislative chambers with bipartisan support and was signed by Governor Glenn Youngkin. And while the heat will spike before it goes into effect July 1st, a spokesperson from Dominion Energy told Radio IQ the company “will continue monitoring the forecast." It’s already started following the rule governing holidays, suspending shutoffs the day before and during Juneteenth this week.

Dominion Energy and other utilities stress that help is available for customer. Contact your provider for details about such assistance.

Click here for Dominion Energy

Click here for Appalachian Power

Here are some suggestions from the power company: During extreme heat, we always encourage customers to conserve energy as much as possible to avoid higher power bills. A few simple things customers can do to conserve and save:

  • Set your thermostat a few degrees higher than you normally would. Every few degrees can lead to big savings when your AC is working overtime.
  • If you have ceiling fans, use them to circulate air and keep your home cool. They use far less energy than your AC unit.
  • Keep your blinds closed during the hottest parts of the day. That makes a big difference in keeping your home cool and reducing stress on your AC unit.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Brad Kutner is Radio IQ's reporter in Richmond.