Work with your co-op to pay overdue bills

If your power’s been disconnected, never resort to meter tampering

Making ends meet might be hard for many Hoosiers right now. If you find yourself falling behind paying monthly utility bills, contact your utility for help before you face losing service. Most electric cooperatives have programs that can help their consumers keep the lights on.

If your electricity already has been disconnected, never resort to tampering with your meter or trying to reconnect power yourself. These acts are extremely dangerous and illegal.

“If you’re unable to pay your bill, please don’t resort to theft,” said Jon Elkins, vice president of safety, training and compliance at Indiana Electric Cooperatives. “Contact your co-op, let them know your situation, and they will work with you as best they can. Most have programs, such as prepaid metering, that will keep your power on and help you pay down previous bills.”

Co-ops see an uptick in numbers of delinquent accounts and cases of meter tampering during economic downturns, especially after the winter moratorium on disconnections of delinquent accounts has passed.

“Tampering is hazardous to the person doing it, and to the public after it’s done,” Elkins explained, “because all the safety precautions that the co-op put in place are now bypassed. The big hazard with trying to reconnect yourself is an arc flash right in your face. If you’re standing in water or wet grass, there’s the possibility of electrocution. But what always worries me most,” he added, “is usually we find the tampered meter base left open — so kids could get into it, any unsuspecting person could be exposed to that hazard.”

Elkins also said tampering can cause the overload protections for the transformer on the utility pole to fail or other problems, as well, potentially causing power outages to neighbors and others along the line.

Like shoplifting, electricity theft is not a victimless crime: all the utility’s consumers ultimately pay for the stolen power through higher rates. Consumers caught meter tampering or stealing electricity, as they usually are, can face hefty penalties from the co-op. Depending on the amount of electricity involved in the theft and circumstances, the co-op may take the case to the sheriff’s department and the county prosecutor.

“Because electric co-ops are owned by their consumers, co-ops go the extra mile to help those consumers going through hard times,” said Elkins.