Residents may see increase in utility usage during 'stay at home' order

Homeowners are spending more time at their residences during the Coronavirus pandemic, likely to use more utilities than usual.

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ)-- West Virginia American Water is warning those who might be using toilet paper substitutes due to shortages, don't flush sanitizing wipes and "flushable" wipes.

Paper towels and other paper products not intended for use in wastewater systems can lead to sewer back-ups and in-home plumbing problems. Even wipes labeled "flushable" or biodegradable cause blockages.

"There are several things we advise customers to do when it comes to water conservation such as when you're running the dishwasher or running the washing machine with your laundry making sure those are full loads every time you run them," said Megan Hannah.

Also, more people are cooking meals from home right now. Be sure not to send oils, fats and greases down the sink. Those materials can stick to pipes, damage equipment and restrict the flow of wastewater and could lead to sewage overflows.

Instead, wait for grease to cool and then use a rubber scraper to remove it from the surface and then place it in a sealed container to be thrown out in the trash.

"We know right now that folks do not want to take on that extra expense when it comes to in-home plumbing issues," said Megan Hannah with American Water. "Maybe leaks and that type of thing could be occurring because these items are going down the drain. So really making sure more so on the homeowner side of things that you're avoid sending those things down the drain so you can avoid costly repairs at some point."

Appalachian Power says this time of year, customers typically see their lowest energy bills due to mild weather.

"If it does get to where it's hot outside and you need the air conditioning," said Phil Moye, spokesperson for AEP. "Doing something as simple as what I've done here just closing the drapes to a window will help cool the room down a little bit and keep you from running the air conditioner as much as you would."

Be sure to turn off lights and electronics when you leave the room. Unplug anything you aren't directly using at that time.

Anyone facing financial hardship should reach out directly to their utility company to try to work out a payment plan or to see what assistance may be available to them.

It's better to partially pay a bill than not at all.

The Public Service Commission held a conference call with the major utility companies and various cable and telecommunication companies operating in West Virginia to determine the status of their operations and share best practices in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Participants in the conference call included Chairman Charlotte Lane, Commissioners Brooks McCabe and Renee Larrick and representatives of AEP (APCo and WPCo), First Energy (Mon Power and Potomac Edison), Mountaineer Gas, Hope Gas, West Virginia American Water, AT&T, Frontier West Virginia, Suddenlink and cable providers.

The utility companies were asked what they were doing to continue providing services and protect their workforces during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Commission also wanted to know what plans were in place to ensure utility services should there be significant weather events or natural disasters that may occur during the pandemic.

Utility companies reported they had agreed not to disconnect customers, pursuant to the Commission’s March 17, 2020 General Order 262. Companies have also taken numerous measures, including social distancing; increased use of tele-meetings; working from home; increased cleaning and disinfecting at work sites; and using retirees, contractors and additional suppliers. Some telecommunications companies are opening enhanced and free wifi for students to assist in studying from home. Telecommunications providers are also following Federal Communications Commission guidelines regarding disconnections.

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