Virginia regulators seek input on extending utility disconnection moratorium, caution it is unsustainable

Virginia News
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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The State Corporation Commission issued a stark warning Thursday on the lasting effects of extending the suspension of service disconnections for non-payment, echoing concerns from April that “unpaid utility bills pose serious costs that mount daily.”

In response to the economic distress brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, state regulators ordered an initial moratorium on utility disconnections on March 16 before extending it on April 9. The commission did, however, note that doing so would lead to mounting costs that will burden other customers in Virginia.

“If such bills are never paid, the costs of these unpaid bills are ultimately borne by paying customers as operational costs of the utility,” the SCC wrote in April. “These costs do not disappear; they are shifted to other customers, who themselves may be struggling to make ends meet in the economic catastrophe caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Before taking any further action on whether to order another extension, regulators are seeking the input of Virginians and those in public office. They are asking for comments on the following questions:

  • Should the mandatory moratorium on utility service disconnections currently in place be extended beyond June 15, 2020? If so, for how long?
  • If the commenter advocates extending the mandatory moratorium on service disconnections indefinitely or for a significant period beyond June 15, please identify the programs and mechanisms, public or private, that will provide sufficient funding to ensure that the costs of unpaid utility bills are defrayed and will not result in even higher costs on other utility customers.
  • Should the mandatory moratorium on service disconnections be replaced on June 15 (or some specific later date) with voluntary measures by utilities to reduce or avoid service disconnections, including as examples and without limitation, offering extended payment plans with no late fees and/or waivers of reconnection charges?

The SCC has requested that all responses or comments be filed by 5 p.m. on June 5. The ongoing moratorium on utility disconnections is scheduled to end on June 15.

“While we recognize the hardships faced by many Virginians as a result of jobs lost due to the COVID-19 catastrophe,” the SCC wrote Thursday, “the reality is that a moratorium on all service disconnections due to unpaid bills is not sustainable on an unlimited basis in the absence of programs to ensure that the growing costs of unpaid bills are not unfairly shifted to other customers.”

This story is developing. Check back for updates.

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