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Midstate borough resumes electric utility disconnections with at least 46 customers losing their power already

A Lancaster County community has begun electric utility shutoffs, ending a moratorium that is enacted at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

  • Julia Agos/WITF
As the sun sets, James, 20, plows a field on his family's farm, Monday, May 4, 2020, in Ephrata, Pa.

 Jessie Wardarski / AP Photo

As the sun sets, James, 20, plows a field on his family's farm, Monday, May 4, 2020, in Ephrata, Pa.

(Ephrata) — At least 46 customers in Ephrata have had their power shut off because they haven’t paid their bill, with another 68 scheduled to be cut off on Sept. 10th. Ephrata is one of just a few dozen municipalities in the commonwealth to own its electric utility.

Ephrata borough council voted last month to resume shutoffs to deter people from falling behind on their payments. Customers were given 11 days’ notice before action was taken.

Although the borough enacts a moratorium on power shutoffs every year in the winter, they’re not uncommon in the summer.

However, in March of this year, the borough approved a moratorium because the pandemic was costing some people their jobs and their ability to pay. Joy Ashley, Executive Director of

Ephrata Area Social Services, said her organization usually works with around 25 families each summer to avoid such a circumstance.

But this year, when the COVID 19 pandemic hit, that number went up to 800.
While she understands the borough needs to pay its own bills, Ashley is worried about the impact on families that are already struggling.

“They have children. They have health issues. They must need to keep the air conditioner running. They have to keep their CPAP machines running at night. And if they don’t have the power on, they’re just wondering, ‘How am I going to this? How am I going to survive?’” she explained.

The first round of shutoffs began on Aug. 20th when 14 homes were disconnected from power. A second round continued August 27, with 32 homes losing power. Those customers were at least 30 days past due on payments.

Ashley hopes to work with councilmembers to find more creative solutions.

“Flying by the seat of our pants, we’re being very reactive. That is not the way to handle this. I want to be proactive,” she said.

Borough Manager Robert Thompson says when the borough council enacted the moratorium in March, they still had some 500 customers past due from the previous winter.

“The thought in July was to provide borough council with the current status of past due accounts with the understanding that beginning in December will be another winter that we won’t disconnect,” he said.

The borough would then try to take actions to help customers get caught up before winter, he said.

Meanwhile, the statewide utility regulator, Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, has agreed to extend their moratorium on power shutoffs three more weeks while the state fights the spread of the coronavirus.

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