Despite a policy to leave the power on if temperatures don't get above freezing, nearly 300 Nashville Electric Service customers are in the dark Thursday after their electricity was cut off for overdue bills.
It turns out that rule depends on what is printed in one specific newspaper and does not consider how cold the entire day will be.
"It's 18 degrees, and they turned my power off. I'm like, 'I don't believe that,'" said NES customer Demetra Staten.
This single mother of two admits she was a couple of months behind on her electric bill, but she's been working six days a week to catch up on the bills that have been higher than usual.
"So, I was like, 'I don't get paid until Sunday. I don't have it.' And they were like, 'We can't work anything out. You can either pay the $229 or your power will be off until you come up with the money,'" Staten said.
NES cut power to 272 customers with overdue bills Wednesday on one of the coldest days of the year.
And all of the customers had the same story. They claim they were never given notice by NES that their electricity was going to be shut off. And it was their understanding it wouldn't be shut off if the temperature was below freezing.
"It has always been NES policy to not disconnect a customer for non-payment if the high temperature of the day is expected to be below 32 degrees," said NES spokeswoman Holden Miller.
Here's the catch: NES depends strictly on the forecast printed in The Tennessean, and NES does not take into account low temperatures or the weather in the coming days.
The official high temperature Wednesday was 31 degrees, but power was still cut off to many families.
"We're actually considering revising the policy of only using The Tennessean to dictate the high temperature of the day," Miller said.
At the NES headquarters Thursday, a steady stream of customers stopped by to pay their bills.
"We are willing to work with our customers on a case by case basis," Miller said.
For now, Staten has borrowed money to get the heat back on just in time for another bill to arrive.
"I still owe NES $304 by Feb. 3," she said.
NES customers have the option to over-pay on their bill, and give the surplus money to help others in need.
The program is run by an organization called Need Link, and customers seeking that assistance must apply for it in person at the organization's office on 56th Avenue North. For more information, visit: http://www.needlink.org.
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