If we hadn't kept the thermostat at 78 degrees, faithfully used the clothesline, turned out lights and gotten a new HVAC unit last year, I've no doubt we'd be in this woman's shoes with a sky high electric bill and no way to pay it before the disconnection was ordered. Thankfully, we managed to keep ours (a family of 6) under $250 all summer.
It's very tough to regulate utility usage. Budget billing, being charged equal payments during the entire year, can only go so far. Until someone creates an inexpensive meter that says how much money has been spent or manages to 'budget' the weather it's going to continue to be a tough call.
It's been decades since I applied for utility service but it seems to me I had to have a good credit history. I'm not sure I'd extend payments six months but having a previous history of paying fully, negotiating a plan with NES based on past credit history and the customer's current budget (and not on some arbitrary NES demand) and following that plan should keep disconnection at bay.
Here's the web page for the NES Power Board: http://www.nespower.com/boardmembers.aspx. You might want to contact them.
Just a reminder of their previous attempt to take our change for their charitable work: Increase In Rates Not Enough.
Also note, Leo Waters formerly of the NES board is moving on to the convention center board.