It's the start of the winter season and some Panhandle families are already facing struggles keeping up with their utility bills.
Electricity and gas are vital when the winter months hit. Xcel Energy has already seen a 28-percent increase in services being disconnected for non payment. One customer we talked with says utility companies need to beef up efforts to communicate with customers before putting lives on the line by cutting utilities.
Lee Kirkendahl is doing all he can to keep himself and his disabled brother warm, after their utilities were cut off days ago. "We've been going out... Where it's warm as much and just covering up and staying warm, Kirkendahl said. Kirkendahl said he received no notice his electricity was being disconnected until someone came to cut the electricity off. He says he paid his late balance of $130, but was told he would have to wait until another worker could come out and turn the electricity back on.
Wes Reeves with Xcel says they are seeing more and more people like Kirkendahl getting disconnected, but are doing everything they can to keep people informed and up to date. "If we are going to disconnect that customer we will notify that customer one other time a through door hanger there power is in immanent danger of being shut off," Reeves said.
Kirkendahl admits he was behind on his bill, but says he never knew he was in jeopardy of losing his electricity. "They need to make sure the people are notified a head of time that they know some one is coming out... At least 2 or 3 days notice a head of time," which would have alleviated Kirkendahl's payment problem.
Both agree active communication is key to keeping the lights on and people warm. Utility companies say if customers are falling behind to contact their offices. They will set up payments or refer you to local agencies that can help you pay your utility bills.
Xcel Energy: (806) 378-2121