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Co-op shuts off electricity to local homeowner

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The Ellis County Press

ELLIS COUNTY - It was a record high 103 degrees for Tim Price and his aunt - and that was just in his house.

Price, who lives near Ferris, endured several days in 100-degree-plus heat in his home after his electric company, Navarro County Co-Op, turned his electricity off after he failed to pay his bill.

But it's the bill that is the focus of controversy.

Though his bill for $186 was not due untill Aug. 18, Navarro, a group of rural business owners who provide electricity through one source, sent him a notice Aug. 12 demanding a $400 reconnection fee and that month's bill.

Price, who said he is seeking a civil lawsuit against the company, said he shouldn't have to pay the extra fees because the bill wasn't due until a week later.

'I take care of my 85-year-old aunt with altzeimers and they shut off the electricity during the hottest [periods] of the month,' Price said. 'It doesn't make any sense.'

But according to Navarro officials, Price had a bill from a previous month and therefore a balance forward was included in the final bill.

Price said a manager in the coop admitted to him they had mistakenly turned his service off, but still refused to turn it back on without the $400 re-connect fee.

In all, Price, according to his utility bill, paid $607 to get his electricity back on.

Now, Price said there needs to be more oversight of cooperatives like Navarro, one of hundreds in the state providing electricity and other utilities to rural residents.

State regulations actually do more harm than good, however.

According to the Texas Electric Cooperatives agency in Austin, legislators exempted co-ops from deregulation, allowing them to 'wait and see' what deregulation would do to their market before allowing competition.

And that's where Price sees the problem.

Because of state laws allowing co-ops to function this way, thousands of rural homeowners have no other choice for their electricity or utility sources.

Price said he could settle for another market-monopolized source, TXU, but even that won't be easy. Though TXU reaches into Ellis County's service area, a co-op, according to the TEC, could decide who gets in a particular market or not.

Navarro's co-op is currently owned by several business owners who contract with Reliant Energy of Houston to provide service to Ellis, Navarro, Limestone and Freestone counties.

When the flap over the bill became even more heated, Price called the Ellis County Sheriff's Office, who then contacted Navarro to force them to turn the electricity back on.

'I asked them [ECSO] if it was illegal to just shut off someone's electricity, and they said it's only illegal on heat advisory days,' Price said, who believes his aunt has suffered as a result of the co-op.

'I called and they said if I wanted my electricity turned back on, I would have to pay a $400 reconnection fee and my bill, then they hung up in my face.'

And now the only recourse Price has is a lawsuit - the Texas Public Utility Commission does not regulate co-ops.

'I'm going to [try to] switch as soon as I can,' Price said. 'This is ridiculous.'

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Nelson Propane

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