Some public assistance organizations in southwestern Indiana say many Vectren electricity customers are seeking help paying big bills from the utility correcting ones that were underestimated during the summer.
Knight Township Trustee Kathryn Martin said her office in Evansville had nearly 600 requests for assistance from people who've not been in before during the days after the new Vectren bills went out.
"We've had to cut back on the amount we're able to help with because we have more clients to serve," Martin told the Evansville Courier & Press. "People are sobbing when they walk up to the window, and we just have to say, 'Hang tight, we're going to work this out with you.'"
Vectren has 142,000 electric customers and 111,000 gas customers in southwestern Indiana, and 570,000 natural gas customers in the central part of the state. It has another 314,000 gas customers in west-central Ohio.
The Evansville-based company said last week that mistakes in calculating estimated electricity use caused about 7,000 customers to be undercharged. The utility said it is offering no-interest payment plans for customers, but some say that's not enough when they face owing hundreds of dollars.
Customer Amanda Marie said her bill went from about $170 to $954.
"I don't know what I'm going to do," Marie said. "That bill is more than I get in a month. I already pay them what I can. I don't think they know how much people struggle."
Vectren said a former meter reading contractor wasn't completing some routes over the summer, contributing to more estimated bills.
Other Evansville-area agencies, including St. Vincent de Paul and the Catholic Charities, also said they have received more requests for help with Vectren bills, although they say it is difficult to determine which requests stem from the estimation error.
Martin said some people who have received the big bills will face tough decisions.
"They'll get the disconnect notice and pay that and not pay rent," Martin said. "It's a tossup. They'll say, 'I have 30 days from eviction, let me pay Vectren so at least I can keep the lights on. Then I'll have that time to figure something else out.'"