Author: David Pomerantz Published: 3/8/2020 Energy and Polict Institute
Latest Update: August 7, 2:00 pm, PT
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COVID-19 continues to impact tens of thousands of people. Johns Hopkins reported at least 59,000 new cases in the U.S. on August 6. But states across the country with binding moratoriums on disconnecting utility service to customers have allowed these policies to lapse. According to a July analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity, less than half of all states currently have mandatory shutoff moratoria in place, and only a few states will have a mandatory moratorium in place by September 1.
Also, some utilities in states without binding moratoriums which made voluntary suspension policies are announcing their intention to resume cutting off people’s power due to non-payment. For instance, Oklahoma Gas & Electric announced that it is about to resume disconnecting customers. The utility’s announcement occurred as the state is reporting a surge in cases since late April. In Missouri, Liberty Utilities resumed sending disconnection notices on July 16. That stands in stark contrast to Pacific Power in Oregon, for example, whose spokesperson told the Energy and Policy Institute that it will not be disconnecting customers for the “foreseeable future.”
A recent survey by researchers at Indiana University found that “22 percent of respondents had to reduce or forgo basic household needs, like medicine or food, to pay an energy bill” in the early months of the COVID-19 crisis. The survey found that people of color, low-income customers, and households with children and the elderly are more likely to face a disconnection by their utility.
The following table details the binding moratorium end dates, as of August 7.
Content below was last updated on April 27, 5:00 pm, PT
Many utilities that sell electricity and gas around the United States are suspending disconnections of customers who do not pay their bills during the coronavirus crisis, or are being ordered to suspend disconnections by regulators or other government officials.
The Energy and Policy Institute (EPI) is collecting data based on published reports and verified statements from utilities about which utilities are suspending disconnections, and which public utility commissions or other governmental bodies are ordering suspensions. EPI reached out on Friday, March 13, to about two dozen large utility companies directly to ask whether they would be suspending disconnections. We are also crowd-sourcing updates via the survey linked from the top of the page.
Note: The tables embedded below, which EPI is updating on a rolling basis, are *not* exhaustive, particularly for smaller utilities, municipal utilities, and cooperatives. If you don’t see your utility listed here, you should call it, or your state’s public utility commission, to find out the most up-to-date information.
While most large utilities, and at least 20 states, have taken some type of action to suspend disconnections, the policies have varied in some key ways:
1. LATE FEE SUSPENSIONS: Some utilities are suspending late fee accruals during the COVID-19 crisis, and some states are ordering their suspension. Others are not. In cases where regulators or utilities are not suspending late fee accrual, customers facing hardship could face accumulated charges to pay back when the emergency is deemed over. Maryland’s order expressly prohibits the accrual of late fees. Many utilities have not yet addressed this issue.
2. RECONNECTIONS: Some utilities, and at least one state, are calling for the reconnection of previously disconnected customers as long as utilities can do so in a safe manner. Wisconsin’s order states that “Additionally, utilities must make reasonable attempts to reconnect service to an occupied dwelling that has been disconnected.”
3. SCOPE: Some of the state and utility policies apply to all customer classes, including residential and commercial customers. Others apply only to residential customers, or even more narrowly to certain income classes in a few cases.
4. DURATION: The utilities’ and state policies vary widely when it comes to duration of the suspensions. Longer or more open-ended policies are likely more effective at reducing customers’ anxieties during the crisis, freeing limited funds for other needs. Some suspensions have extended only through the end of March, at least as of now.
Regulatory and Government Actions
Government bodies have ordered disconnection suspensions statewide in 28 states and the District of Columbia: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin. Michigan is requiring utilities to suspend disconnections for only low-income and senior customers, as well as for “customers exposed to, infected by or quarantined because of COVID-19.” Oklahoma and West Virginia regulators have encouraged or urged voluntary action only.
The state actions vary significantly in scope. Maryland and Texas applied the suspension only to residential customers. Texas additionally is requiring residential customers to offer proof of unemployment.
On March 30, Sen. Ed Markey (D – Mass.) and seven other senators introduced a resolution calling for electric and gas utilities to suspend disconnections and waive late fees, to make reasonable efforts to restore connection to those previously disconnected, to waive reconnection fees, and to place a moratorium on rate increases during the duration of the federal state of emergency. Sixteen Democratic U.S. Senators had previously urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to adopt a nationwide suspension of all utility disconnections as part of a third COVID-19 relief package, including the suspension of late fees and fees associated with reconnections.
Many investor-owned utility companies have suspended disconnections, including Ameren, American Electric Power, Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Evergy, FirstEnergy, Georgia Power, NV Energy, PECO, PG&E, Southern California Edison, Xcel Energy and others.
The Edison Electric Institute, which is the trade association for investor-owned utility companies, announced that all EEI member companies are suspending electricity disconnects for non-payment nationwide. A list of EEI members is available here, and a map of their service territories is available here. The American Gas Association said on Mar. 31 that its member companies “have committed to work closely with state public utility commissions to appropriately suspend disconnecting customers from their natural gas service.”
Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) adopted a comprehensive policy that includes:
- Suspending electric service disconnections for nonpayment for residential and business customers, until further notice.
- Waived late fees for residential and business customers, effective immediately, until further notice.
- Collection and credit reporting for nonpayment have been suspended.
- Those recently disconnected for nonpayment will have their power restored without being assessed a reconnection fee.
A municipal utility in Oregon, the Eugene Water & Electric Board (EWEB), announced a comprehensive policy: It is suspending all shutoffs, suspending late fees, increasing its budget for bill assistance, expanding its bill assistance to cover customers who experience job loss, and deferring loan payments for customers with residential or commercial energy efficiency loans upon request.
Utility Inactions, Vague Actions or Partial Actions
Other utilities have not suspended disconnections, or are not stating clearly how broadly they are applying customer relief policies.
A number of rural cooperative utilities have not suspended disconnections despite the COVID-19 crisis.
After community groups expressed concerns for days about Alabama Power’s silence on disconnections, Alabama Power stated on March 19 on its “Alabama NewsCenter” web site that “Alabama Power has been clear that we will not disconnect or charge late fees to any customer who is affected by COVID-19.” [Emphasis added.]
Alabama Power’s Southern Co. sister company, Georgia Power, had announced a clearer suspension on March 13, extending 30 days. The advocacy organization GASP (Greater Birmingham Alliance to Stop Pollution) had been calling upon Alabama Power to suspend disconnections until at earliest May 1 and to waive late payment charges. Two Alabama PSC commissioners, Twinkle Cavanaugh and Jeremy Oden, released statements about the crisis, but neither announced a formal suspension in disconnections for all utilities.
Florida Power & Light (FPL), a subsidiary of NextEra Energy, announced on March 16 that it would suspend disconnections “at least through the end of March.” FPL had initially sent customers an email on Friday, March 13 advising customers having trouble paying their bills to look to FPL, federal, state, and local resources, but did not state it was suspending disconnections, and linked to a page that did not list COVID-19 among allowable reasons for bill payment extensions. Gulf Power, another NextEra subsidiary, announced the same policy on March 17.
Community organizations are calling for FPL to extend its moratorium through Florida’s state of emergency, plus 30 days. A legislator is calling on Florida Gov. DeSantis to formally include utility disconnection suspensions in his state of emergency.
– In Michigan, Consumers Energy told EPI that it is suspending shutoffs only for certain customer classes:
“We are suspending shutoffs for non-pay for low-income and senior customers beginning March 16, 2020 through April 5, 2020,” said Director of Media Relations Katie Carey. “Senior citizens and qualified low-income customers already enrolled in our Winter Protection Program have already had their end dates extended through April 30, 2020, without any additional actions required on their part.”
Deadline Detroit is reporting a similar policy from DTE Energy.
State regulators have not enacted a suspension on utility disconnections to the much broader group of customers certain to face economic hardship as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak and Michigan’s “Stay Home. Stay Safe” executive order.
– NRG Energy, with service territory across multiple states, issued a statement saying that it extended its “ongoing support to those who may need us,” but offered no comments on updates to its disconnection policies. NRG directed customers to visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s website. [Update 3/24: Reliant Energy Retail Services in Texas (an NRG company) submitted a letter on 3/17 to the Public Utility Commission of Texas that it is “pausing payment-related disconnects for residential and small commercial customers.”]
Some Texas utilities have voluntarily suspended disconnects, but others have not. Retail electric providers in Texas, which has a deregulated electricity market, are still required to pay transmission utilities under normal operating rules whether a retail customer is paying them for service or not. An open meeting is scheduled at the Texas Public Utilities Commission on March 26 to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic (Project No. 50664).
Further results are below. If you know information contained here is inaccurate or dated, or if you work for a utility with information not included here, please email us at email@example.com.
This list is generally focused on electric and gas utilities. Food & Water Watch is keeping track of water disconnection suspensions here.
Regulators or government bodies that have ordered disconnections suspended:
Utilities that have suspended disconnections:
Utilities that have not clearly suspended disconnections, or have not responded to requests for comment:
EPI thanks AppVoices and E9 Insights for their contributions to this research. AppVoices is tracking disconnections among TVA-area local power companies. E9 Insights is tracking state utility commission actions. NARUC is also tracking state actions.