Bracing for bigger energy bills


Reporter - Jason Hibbs
Photojournalist - David Dycus

PADUCAH, Ky. - You may not have noticed yet, but many of our area's largest energy providers are raising their rates.

Jackson Purchase Energy and Kenergy customers will see an estimated 20 percent increase in rates starting in August.  A 7.5 percent rate increase for Paducah Power's residential customers went into effect Monday.  They can expect another 7.5 percent rate hike next April.

Charitable groups fear the demand for energy assistance will go up along with the price hikes.  Right now,  they're already turning people away.

The director at West Kentucky Allied Services says the money set aside to help families pay those energy bills stays the same, or shrinks.
They're worried about this summer.

Wayne Fowler lives alone.  But it wasn't always this way.  At one point, his adult son and granddaughter live with him, but he sent them away.

"It's kind of hard to tell your kids you've got to leave because daddy can't keep you warm," Fowler said.

More than a month ago, the lights went out, the power shut off.

He owed Paducah Power hundreds of dollars, and to get the power back on, he needed help.  So he went to West Kentucky Allied Services, but didn't get any assistance.

Director Tony Dowdy said his organization is stretching every dollar.

"We do the best we can with what moneys we do get," Dowdy said.

But Dowdy said he gets less energy assistance money every year, and the price for power is on the rise.

"We can't guarantee that we're going to have emergency moneys for people," Dowdy said.

The Salvation Army helped Fowler turn his power back on, for now he's trying to save as much energy as possible, by covering windows and using as little electricity as possible.

The power is on for now, but with a rate increase on next month's bill, he worries he might be stuck in the dark, again.

"I'm any day expecting this stuff to be cut off because I can't pay it," Fowler said.

Dowdy said his organization received $1.4 million in Federal energy assistance funds in 2011-2012.  But for 2012-2013, they only received $880,000.  There is also an emergency fund for people in dire situations, but Dowdy says there's not much money in that fund either.