S.E. Williams | Executive Editor
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A new report by the renewable energy service company Arcadia highlighted the stress households face regarding past-due utility bills that continue to escalate due to the pandemic.
Rising utility bills resulted in large part from increased usage due to the number of Americans either locked down, working, and attending school at home electronically. This, however, is just part of the story.
What the Report Found
According to Arcadia, nearly 37 million customers representing about a third of all households in the nation are confronting past due utility bills in addition to other economic stressors resulting from the loss of jobs and/or other streams of income also due to the pandemic.
Arcadia reported the average past due amount of its customers in its network total about $850.
Past Due Amounts Owed to CA Utilities
Updated numbers on customers in California falling behind on paying their utility bills, as compiled by the CPUC on Feb. 22, 2021, indicated past due utility payments owed Pacific Gas and Electric ( PG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE), San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), and the Southern California Gas Company (SCG) collectively totaled more than $1.25 trillion.
CPUC Considers Customer Relief
In February, the CPUC considered options in response to the magnitude of the problem. They included seeking answers to the following questions:
- Is it reasonable to develop arrearage relief to assist customers with arrearages that have accumulated during the COVID-19 period?
- If we should provide relief, how should we structure it, and who should be eligible?
- How would we fund this relief?
- How should we coordinate any relief with other customer programs and COVID response measures?
- What are the concerns and considerations unique to the small and multi-jurisdictional utilities and their customers?
The commission is working through its Order Instituting Rulemaking process on the issue and is expected to render a decision on June 24, 2021.
“It is critical we proactively address the large and growing energy bill arrearages that have accrued during the pandemic,” said CPUC President Marybel Batjer. “The new arrearages Rulemaking provides us with a venue to be creative in developing and implementing measures that will help ensure relief to customers once the moratorium on customer disconnections for non-payment ends.”
President’s New COVID Relief Bill Offers Some Support
In the meantime, the $1.9 trillion COVID rescue plan signed into law by President Joe Biden this month will provide some relief as it includes $5 billion earmarked for households needing help with power and water bills. This in combination with other government funding allocated for energy assistance since the onset of the pandemic remains available to those struggling to pay utility bills. The aid is being disbursed through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) has published and updated a national Map of Disconnection Moratoria. According to its most recent update on March 23, 2021, the CPUC decision scheduled for June 24 will be rendered just in time.
Status of Utility Moratorium in California
On April 17, 2020, the CPUC issued an Emergency Resolution preventing disconnections for residential and small business customers until April 17, 2021. This was followed on February 11, 2021 with a vote by CPUC commissioners to extend the moratorium until June 30, 2021.
“The pandemic and its economic impacts are ongoing, and I see our Rulemaking as an important part of the CPUC’s effort to support vulnerable customers when the disconnection moratorium expires,” said Commissioner Genevieve Shiroma. “I’m looking forward to leveraging the Low-Income Oversight Board’s considerable expertise to make sure utility communications to customers during the transition are effective and reach the most vulnerable customers.”
S.E. Williams is executive editor for the IE Voice and Black Voice News.