The Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) denied Governor Ralph Northam’s Thursday request to extend a moratorium on utilities shutoffs until December. The moratorium will end October 5. The SCC had previously warned that they would not consider any further extensions.
“The mounting costs of unpaid bills must eventually be paid, either by the customers in arrears or by other customers who themselves may be struggling to pay their bills,” a press release warned on September 15. By the end of June, the outstanding bills were already $184 million.
In his letter to the SCC, Northam said his August 18 budget proposal to the General Assembly provided for a shutoffs moratorium, repayment plans, and debt forgiveness. “With proposals for utilities and customers included in both the House and Senate’s recently introduced budget proposals, we are optimistic that the General Assembly will address this issue. The intent of this request is to ensure that there are no disconnections between the expiration of the current order and when the budget becomes law.”
Counsel to the Commission John Dudley sent a letter back on the same day. “As discussed in the enclosed order of September 15, 2020 (which also closed the Commission’s official proceeding in this matter), the Commission-mandated moratorium began on March 16, 2020, and will not be extended beyond October 5, 2020.”
In its September decision, the SCC ordered utilities to continue to provide extended payment plans. “The Commission further directed that customers on such plans (or other good-faith repayment plans with the utility) shall not be charged late fees and shall not be disconnected. Thus, for these customers, the protections of the moratorium continue.”
On Tuesday, the House of Delegates passed its version of the budget and the Senate passed its version on Friday. Although they are not yet law, both bills would extend the shutoffs moratorium to last as long as the state’s emergency declaration. Forgiven debts will also be partially covered by federal and state funds; however, utilities may also increase other customers’ bills to cover any losses.
Additionally, both bills direct that unpaid debts of Dominion Energy customers be paid from the over $300 million in unauthorized earnings the company collected. However, the House and Senate bills disagree on which debts should be covered; the House legislation orders forgiveness for debts 60 days past due on August 31, while the Senate legislation covers debts 30 days past due on September 30.
In his letter to Northam, Dudley said the SCC will act promptly as soon as the budget is finalized. “[Y]our correspondence references legislative activity on this matter as part of the ongoing General Assembly special session that began on August 18, 2020. In this regard, please know that the Commission, as always, stands ready to implement any statutory directives that result therefrom.”
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