HEA rates hike goes into effect

Residents facing financial hardships due to the pandemic will not see their electricity shut off.

Homer Electric Association members may notice a slight increase in their electric bills. However, residents facing financial hardships due to the global pandemic will not see their electricity shut off if they can’t pay their bills.

HEA stopped residential disconnects and plans to do so through the pandemic, Bruce Shelley, HEA director of member relations, told the Clarion via email Tuesday. If members don’t pay, their electricity won’t be disconnected at this time, but the member is still responsible to pay for the use of electricity, Shelley said. He urged members who need assistance to call and talk to a member services representative.

“HEA continues to look for solutions to help our members through this challenging time,” Shelley said. “We at HEA know everyone, including our own employees are going through tough times right now. We are here to work with you to find a solution.”

The Alaska Legislature passed Senate Bill 241 over the weekend, which will prevent utility companies from disconnecting services to residents who are “experiencing financial hardship related to the COVID-19 public health disaster emergency,” the bill said. This state protection will continue as long as the state’s health disaster emergency is in effect, or before Nov. 15, “whichever is earlier.”

The bill asks residents to provide the utility company a signed statement, “sworn under penalty of perjury,” that they are experiencing financial hardship related to the health disaster, and to negotiate with the utility company a deferred payment agreement. The bill doesn’t relieve residents from paying for their utility service.

The increased rates took effect April 1, a March 24 press release from HEA said.

On a quarterly basis, the COPA, or the cost of power adjustment, rate is adjusted to reflect the actual cost of natural gas used to generate power for members, the release said.

The rate is changing from $0.06204 to $0.07767 per kilowatt hour. The average residential member who uses 550 kWh/month will see an $8.60 increase in their bill, the release said.

The release said the increase this quarter is primarily driven by last quarter’s “unusually low” COPA rate and an increase in fuel costs.

Late last year, the COPA rate was low because of the “unusually high water levels” at Bradley Lake, where HEA receives hydro power. The ability to use more hydropower reduced the dependence on natural gas.

Because of this, HEA says they are looking into reducing their “heavy dependence” on a single fuel and evaluating several “renewable resource opportunities.” The first of these new resources will be available late this summer when the Battle Creek Hydro Project is completed.

The HEA lobbies in Homer and Kenai are closed until May 1, Shelley said. HEA has moved employee workstations 6 feet apart and asked employees who are able to work from home to do so, he said.

Member services are available by phone in Homer at 907-235-8551 and in Kenai at 907-283-5831, or toll free at 800-478-8551. Members can pay their bills on the HEA website or by phone 24/7. Physical payments are also accepted at the secure lock boxes at the HEA office entrances.