MPUC Adopts Order on IOU Disconnections

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MPUC Adopts Order on IOU Disconnections

June 19, 2020

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission June 18 delved into ‘Actions by Electric and Natural Gas Utilities in Light of the COVID-19 Pandemic Emergency.’ The Commission unanimously adopted an order that requires state-regulated utilities to:

a. Suspend disconnections for residential customers;

b. Suspend negative reporting to credit agencies for residential customers through the end of 2020;

c. Waive re-connection, service deposits, and late fees, interest, and penalties for residential customers for the duration of the peacetime emergency.

These stipulations will remain in effect until the end of the peacetime emergency.

The state’s regulated utilities, which are affected by the order, readily agreed to the proposals put forth by a number of low-income, ‘consumer’ and other non-profit entities, most generally known for their advocacy on environmental issues.

Much of the proceeding and discussion dealt with various regulatory reporting requirements. The discussion touched on, but left unresolved, possible future issues, including payment plan parameters.

In addition, regulated utilities are required to provide the Commission with 60 days’ notice, after the end of the peacetime emergency, with a transition plan, before resuming:

a. Negative credit reporting;

b. Imposing reconnection, service deposits, late fees, interest, and penalties for residential customers.

There was some discussion around the 60-day notice period, with the Commission clarifying that it did not intend to ‘stack’ two 60 periods for filing of transition plans. Commission Chair Katie Sieben noted that 120 days after the end of the current emergency order, which expires on July 13, would run into the beginning of another Cold Weather Rule period. She also expressed concern over an accruing customer debt “cliff.”

MPUC staff briefing papers noted that unintended consequence of a disconnection moratorium: “While customers are not at immediate threat for disconnection while a shut-off moratorium is in place, it does not fix the underlying issue of not being able to pay for utility service. This will only become compounded as the economic recession stretches out. Assisting customers before disconnections resume will be key to avoiding mass shut offs.”

The Commission and Department of Commerce jointly issued a letter March 25 requesting gas and electric utilities extend the customer protections. By April 3, 2020, all rate-regulated utilities and many cooperative and municipal utilities responded.

The Commission is expected to issue a notice to start a broader look at disconnection data and reporting in Docket E,G999/CI 19 563.

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