Some Glasgow seniors leave homes to avoid high electric bills

A group of senior citizens relax Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016, at Community Action's Glasgow Senior Center. The center has stayed open longer to help seniors ride out the predicted peak period. (Miranda Pederson/photo@bgdailynews.com)

Some Glasgow seniors on fixed incomes say they are forced to vacate their homes multiple times each month to avoid paying a high bill under the Glasgow Electric Plant Board's "coincident peak" rate structure for electric service, which charges as much as $11 per kilowatt hour during the one hour each month when local demand for electricity is the highest.

In response to the rate structure, which for months has been a source of controversy in Glasgow, Community Action's Glasgow Senior Center has stayed open longer to help seniors ride out the predicted peak periods, according to Paula Bragg, director of the center.

"When it started getting so hot and my seniors were telling me they might have to move out of their homes they've lived in for years, I said, 'Something's got to give,' " she said. "With everything that's been going on, I can extend the hours so people have a place to go."

The center, which is normally open weekdays from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., has been closing at 2 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and at 4 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Bragg said.

EPB doesn't know when the coincident peak – which is determined by power provider Tennessee Valley Authority – will be each month, but the Glasgow utility sends notifications about when the peak hour might occur, based largely on weather forecasts. Last week, EPB has issued three warnings of a potential coincident peak hour, each cautioning customers that it might fall anywhere between noon and 5 p.m. on a particular day.

Critics of the coincident peak system, which was introduced in January, say the significantly higher charge and the imprecise nature of EPB's notifications place an undue burden on segments of the population such as the elderly, the disabled and working families, who might not have the ability to curtail their homes' electric consumption in the middle of the afternoon several times a month.

As public outcry over the rate structure escalated during the summer, EPB recently began offering an interim alternative rate that eliminates the coincident peak charge but includes per-kilowatt-hour charges that are higher than EPB's 2015 rates. Very few people have switched to that option since it was introduced, and EPB Superintendent Billy Ray has acknowledged that the interim rate isn't necessarily attractive to customers. He has asked the EPB's board of directors to repeal the interim rate once he presents a permanent alternative rate by the end of September.

The Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet said the average price of electricity across Kentucky in 2014 was 8.13 cents per kilowatt hour.

All through the summer, Herbert Ballard, fearing a high bill, has been leaving his house as often as he can during the day. The center's expanded hours aren't enough for him to wait out the entire predicted peak periods, which usually last until 5 p.m., Ballard said, but the center's availability certainly helps.

“I've got to stay away from home until 5," he said.

He's been a fairly regular visitor to the senior center since 2006, when he was 62. But now, in the interest of staying out of his home, he comes to the center every day so he can “shoot pool (and) stay where it's cool.”

Ballard's only source of income is the monthly Social Security payments that he and his wife receive, he said, adding that the coincident peak hours are financially damaging.

”It hurts me," he said. "I can't turn my air on until 5 o' clock. I can't turn nothing on except the refrigerator and the deep freezer.”

After he leaves the center, he'll try to find other places where he can stay cool, he said, adding that he can't risk the summer heat because it might exacerbate his chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

In seeking refuge, he'll sometimes sit at McDonald's by himself for a few hours or go to Wal-Mart with a friend.

“Me and him hang out sometimes. We'll go to Wal-Mart sometimes and hang out a while," he said. "Sit there and kill up time.”

On Wednesday, Georgia Estes and Doloris Harvey visited the senior center for the first time.

Estes and Harvey have also been in the habit of avoiding their own homes, though they haven't been able to escape every predicted peak period.

"We either leave home or we stay there and suffer," Estes said, adding that she would gladly move off the EPB's grid if she could.

She and Harvey both said they have medical issues that make lingering in the heat potentially dangerous.

Over the last few months, the two have been going to the home of Harvey's son, who lives in Columbia, to wait out the peak periods when they can, Harvey said.

"It's worth every mile," she said. "I thank God for my children."

Harvey said the senior center is a convenient place for seeking refuge from the heat during predicted peak days and that she and Estes might come to the senior center more often in the future.

— Follow reporter Jackson French on Twitter @Jackson_French or visit bgdailynews.com.

General assignment reporter focusing on features and regional coverage.