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JEA resumes disconnections, but a slight break on bills may be coming

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JEA
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JEA

Hundreds of JEA customers were left in the dark for portions of Tuesday night after the municipal utility disconnected their electricity for not paying their bills.

JEA suspended disconnections in August as gasoline and natural gas prices spiked — giving customers a reprieve at the height of the summer heat. That grace period ended on Sunday.

On Tuesday, JEA reported that volumes at its call center skyrocketed this week as customers tried to pay their bills before the grace period ended. On Sunday, as many as 3,800 customers were behind on their bills. By Tuesday afternoon, that number was 2,570.

By midday Wednesday, 1,280 customers had been disconnected or faced disconnection by the end of the day.

Nevertheless, those numbers pale compared with a typical month. During Tuesday’s JEA board of directors meeting, Chief Customer Officer Sheila Pressley said about 12,000 disconnections occur in an average month.

The disconnection discussion comes amid soaring energy prices, although JEA customers might be in for a small break.

In October 2021, JEA’s board decided to update fuel prices monthly instead of annually. At that time, the fuel surcharge was $30.50.

The surcharge has increased 90% since January. It was $42 in March, shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, and $83.46 in September. The utility projects its fuel surcharge will decrease to $79.03 next month.

Russia is one of the world’s top producers of natural gas alongside the United States and Qatar. After its invasion, some European countries — including Germany, the continent’s largest economy — sought to secure natural gas elsewhere.

Nancy Reinker, JEA’s manager of fuels management services, told its board Tuesday that natural gas companies can make as much as 500% more per BTU selling to European markets than American markets.

Increased sales to Europe mean less supply and higher costs in the United States.

In 2021, 62% of JEA energy was powered by natural gas, a slight decline from 63% in 2020, but well ahead of its 49% natural gas usage in 2019.

“In order to bring that into our system it has become more and more impacted by world events,” Managing Director and CEO Jay Stowe told WJCT News in late August.

“It used to not be like that. It’s changed because of a handful of things. One of them is the war and Russia cutting off natural gas. When they cut off the pipeline to Europe, there (is) liquefied natural gas that will be taken to Europe. When the price of liquefied natural gas goes up, then suppliers are interested in putting it on a boat and sending it to Europe. Because of supply and demand that raises the cost that we have to pay for natural gas. All of that is passed through directly to our customers.”

The utility identified ways it can reduce energy prices: by hedging natural gas; by procuring solid fuel and natural gas in advance; and by expanding its purchasing power for fuels.