Idahoans struggle to pay utility bills

More Idahoans are struggling to pay rising utility bills as increasing power costs and declining economic fortunes collide to create harder times as winter nears.

Idaho Power Co. has already written off $2 million in uncollectible power bills, an increase of 46 percent over last year, spokesman Russ Jones said Tuesday.

A recent Associated Press survey found that utility shutoffs because of nonpayment are 17 to 20 percent higher than last year in some parts of the country. Meanwhile, the U.S. Energy Department says natural gas users can expect to pay $150 more to heat their homes through the winter than they did last year, about a 22 percent increase.

Intermountain Gas Co. raised its rates Oct. 1. For residential customers who use natural gas for space and water heating, the increase is about $12.30 per month, or about 18 percent. Idaho Power has asked the PUC for a 6.3 percent rate increase, or about $4 a month for residential customers. The request follows a 4.7 percent increase for residential customers that went into effect in March.

"It is really heartbreaking," said Mary Chant, executive director of the Community Action Partnership Association of Idaho. "The lowest-income earners are really vulnerable, but everybody is being affected."

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