When Energy Bills Skyrocketed, These Neighbors Banded Together to Keep the Lights On—And Won

On her street of clapboard houses in Poughkeepsie, New York, Donna West was the lady with no lights.

“That’s how people on the block know me,” said West. “But I’m not hanging my head in shame—no, Lord.”

Broad-shouldered and with a soft expression, West and her three children have been living in the dark for months. They charge their cell phones at the laundromat. West and her daughter, Princess, who are both asthmatic, perform their nebulizer treatments at a neighbor’s home. In the early mornings, West heats water on the stove so the kids can take lukewarm baths before school. Princess even invented a song to cut through the darkness:

We have no lights
at 2 Gray Street.
When you come in our house,
you cannot see.
You will fall down the stairs,
like I did yesterday…

The problem was that Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp., the monopoly energy provider for the city of Poughkeepsie and two counties in the Mid-Hudson River Valley, claimed that West owed an outstanding balance of $12,882.26. It was a figure so shocking to West, who had been paying the utility company between $100 and $200 each month consistently over the last 16 years, that she carried around her bill in her purse. “I have to show people my bill because they don’t believe me,” she said.

West is one of the newest members of Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson, a Poughkeepsie housing rights organization that has set its sights not on JP Morgan-Chase or Fannie Mae but on a local corporation saddling residents with housing-related debt: the privately owned utility company Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp.

Read the whole story over at YES! Magazine