PVEC proactive during Covid-19 pandemic

Published 2:02 pm Saturday, April 4, 2020

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A dozen or more public interest groups spanning portions of Tennessee and Alabama have banded together in a common cause during the Covid-19 pandemic. The band is urging the Tennessee Valley Public Power Association (TVPPA) to do its part in encouraging member utilities to stop service disconnections and late fees for those impacted by the coronavirus.

“In accordance with the principles of public power, TVPPA members have a duty to protect customers by suspending disconnections and waiving late fees during a national crisis, and to reinstate service to those who have recently had their power disconnected,” reads a portion of the letter sent to TVPPA by the 14 organizations that make up the band.

The TVPPA consists of electric cooperatives and municipal electric utilities that serve some 9 million people across 7 states within the service area of the Tennessee Valley Authority (Tennessee Valley Authority).

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The letter identifies five large TVPPA utilities that have taken action to protect their customers. However, many TVPPA members may still be charging customers late fees and cutting off service for non-payment, according to the letter.

The recent Federal Stimulus Package authorizes deferred wholesale power payments in electric utility service areas and increases federal funding to help low-income households with energy bills, the letter states.

TVPPA members should not cut off service or add late fees onto the bills of families who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in dire economic straits for the foreseeable future, the letter continues.

In an email response, TVPPA said the association could not take action to recommend shutoff moratoriums without intruding on the “local control” of public utilities, according to a press release from the grassroots organization Appalachian Voices.

“Unfortunately, while some investor-owned utility associations have already implemented no-shutoff policies system wide, many of TVPPA’s members have yet to adopt these protections for residents,” said Bri Knisley, campaign coordinator for Appalachian Voices Tennessee. “Our public power utilities should be at the forefront of this effort, rather than waiting for government mandates. We need groups like TVPPA to recognize the crucial need for leadership in this critical time.”

Locally, Powell Valley Electric Cooperative (PVEC) has moved swiftly to address Covid-19 concerns. Roger Ball, president of the PVEC board of directors, said in an interview that the utility has put into place a temporary policy similar to those set up by other utilities across the state. The policy insures no disconnections of service due to nonpayment of bills and the waiving of any late pay fees. This policy will continue until the virus is contained.

Fortunately, there have been no disconnections of services by PVEC during the last few weeks. Meaning, no one is without electric during this pandemic due to nonpayment of bills.

Ball says the Cooperative has not yet determined just when disconnections will resume. However, PVEC will not cut power to customers during this pandemic, he said.

“It looks like it will be several months before the (Covid-19) rash is over,” said Ball. “We will work with our members to set up a payment program, on an individual basis, once this pandemic is over.”

Randell Meyers, PVEC general manager and CEO, issued a statement assuring the public that the Cooperative understands the hardships that some of its members are facing. According to the statement, any electric bill balances that are owed will continue to accrue during this grace period.

“If possible, members are encouraged to continue making payments to avoid a large electric bill balance,” reads the statement, in part.

Although the lobbies are closed, bills can be paid a number of other ways. You may phone in your payment or log onto the PVEC website. The Cooperative also has night deposit boxes along the driveway and a drop box to the left of the lobby entry door.

The utility has also set up temporary trailers that have been retrofitted with special windows to allow a safe, enclosed environment for transacting business via drive-thru window service.

These alternatives can be used to pay your bills at the New Tazewell, Sneedville and Jonesville Offices.

Ball says the Cooperative has stepped up safety measures for employees.

“We’re bringing in our crews at different times. Each two-man linemen crew is retaining the same truck and disinfecting it at the beginning of the day and again at the end of the day. They place their work orders for needed materials inside their vehicle. We’re leaving the trucks outside and the materials are placed outside their truck by the warehouse employees. That way, none of the people are coming inside the warehouse. We’re taking every precaution so that none of the employees will be in contact with anyone except the one person they are working with,” said Ball.

“We’re a vital service and we can’t afford to have a major epidemic with our employees. There’s no congregating to have coffee or to even get their supplies. They don’t even come in the building.”

Ball says management is conducting multiple conference calls daily among the various organizations to stay abreast of the very latest in combating this pandemic.

For the latest information, log onto: www.pve.coop.