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HEAT WATCH : Don’t Unplug

When authorities found Cynthia Blaire dead from heat exhaustion in her Palm Springs home in June, the temperature in the apartment was a brutal 110 degrees. A week earlier Southern California Edison had turned off the apartment’s power because Blaire, 68 and infirm, had failed to pay a $40 electricity bill.

The state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) allows companies to disconnect power if a customer fails to pay a bill after a 15-day delinquency term and a 48-hour notification period--contact that usually occurs by phone or mail. No personal contact is required. And in Blaire’s case, none was made.

Utilities do have third-party notification and low-income assistance programs. But sometimes people still fall between the cracks.

Critics charge that the PUC collection guidelines do not properly address extenuating circumstances such as extreme weather conditions. Judging by the outcome in the Southern California Edison case, the critics may be correct.

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Reacting to Blaire’s death, Edison officials have wisely decided to change their disconnect policy during extreme weather.

Now, if the mercury rises above 105 degrees or falls below 25 degrees utility representatives will attempt to contact customers in arrears in person instead of over the phone.

For its part, the PUC should reassess rules governing collection in severe cold or heat. In our opinion, it is utterly wrong to shut off anyone’s electricity when temperatures can be fatal.


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