MU:  Electricity cutoffs have not risen under COVID

Since Morristown Utilities resumed electricity cutoffs for nonpayment of bills, payment-related disconnects have not risen sharply, and remain at a pre-coronavirus rate of approximately 290 per month, according to Jody Wigington, MU general manager.

The utility shut the Main Street office for eight weeks and suspended power cutoffs for six weeks when the coronavirus erupted in Morristown to allow unemployment checks to reach jobless customers.

Cutoffs resumed for prepay customers on May 15 and the cycle of cutoffs for people who pay by conventional means was complete by early July, according to Wigington. He said Morristown fared better than many communities because a large percentage of manufacturing here was classified as essential and paychecks continued during the partial economic shutdown.

“There was some ramp-up as the disconnect process restarted, but the numbers are about the same as pre-COVID,” Wigington said. “This period was valuable to provide customers time to receive stimulus checks and unemployment benefits.”

The utility manager says MU has been trying to work with customers who fall behind, and currently about 130 customers who owe about $58,000 are participating in a payment plan, which can give them six months or more to clear the bill.

About 900 residential customers – approximately 7.5 percent of the total – now prepay their electricity bills. These customers receive daily notices by text, telephone or email about how much they have remaining in prepaid electrical service. Prepay customers do not pay a fee for auto-reconnect following a disconnect, according to Wigington.

He says 80 percent of electricity disconnects come from 20 percent of the 12,800 residential customers.

During the partial economic shutdown, MU donated $30,000 and TVA donated $10,000 to the Morristown-Hamblen Central Services program that helps people pay power bills.

Wigington says the donations allowed MU customers who were short on cash to keep blemishes off their credit reports, and prevented the paying customers from footing the bill for those who did not.

The $40,000 was depleted in two to three weeks.