Nonprofit Operates For Months With No Power

It’s safe to assume most modern office workers would face a number of challenges working in a building without any electricity.

But the staff of a nonprofit organization in Chicago found themselves powering through daily tasks without computers, light and heat for months while the building’s owner disputed a bill with the area’s largest electric utility.

“We lost our electrical service in August and so we’ve been doing our best to carry on here at our farm office,” said Michael Howard, CEO of Eden Place Nature Center, a subsidiary of Fuller Park Community Development, during an interview with NBC 5 Responds in December.

The nature center is located at 4417. S. Stewart and includes office space, a classroom and a field. Students who attend classes learn “urban farming” techniques from Howard and his staff.

However, a class scheduled for the end of September was put on hold due to facility’s lack of electricity. And a field of mustard greens grown by students earlier in the year had yet to be tilled for the next farming season. Howard said the building’s power woes meant that staff could not repair tractors or sharpen plows.

“It’s been very hard for us to carry on with the farming and education part of our programming here,” Howard said.

According to Howard, temporary electric service lines were installed after he purchased the property in 2014. He said the first few monthly electric bills were normal. But after permanent lines were attached to the building, the nature center’s power bill skyrocketed to $7,371. 

Howard said there is no way his building could use that much electricity because there are only a handful of computers and office lights turned on at any given time. So he contacted ComEd and said he was told an error had been made. 

“We were told they used the previous owner’s billing cycle as an estimate,” Howard said.

Howard said in subsequent months he only paid for the electricity he used while ComEd investigated the issue. But two years later the original disputed bill had ballooned to more than $13,000 and the utility pulled the plug on the building’s power.

“We’ve never really had anyone really try to resolve this matter,” Howard said. 

NBC 5 Responds reached out to ComEd regarding Howard’s concerns. The utility reviewed the issue and subsequently turned the power back on to the Eden Place Nature Center in early December. 

“While we strive to present each and every customer with a good experience sometimes we miss the mark, which is what unfortunately happened in this situation,” said ComEd spokesperson John Schoen.

According to Schoen, the utility found a “communication gap” in its process and the utility is working to ensure it avoids these types of situations in the future. The utility also cleared a $15,000 judgment against the nonprofit and apologized to its customer.

“We have continued to work with them to fully resolve the matter to their satisfaction,” Schoen said.

As for staff of Eden Place Nature Center, work has since resumed and Howard said “it’s just good to be back into civilization.”

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