Docket Numbers: Avista UE-210114 and UG-210115; PacifiCorp UE-210131, Puget Sound Energy UG-210137 and UE-210138; Cascade Natural Gas UG-210145; COVID-19 Response U-200281
Support on the way for customers struggling financially due to COVID-19
Lacey, Wash. - Today the Utilities and Transportation Commission approved $40 million in new energy bill assistance funding for customers struggling financially due to the pandemic.
Low-income energy and natural gas customers of four of the state’s investor-owned utilities — Avista, Cascade Natural Gas, PacifiCorp, and Puget Sound Energy — will be eligible next week for bill assistance as part of UTC-mandated efforts to assist customers impacted by COVID-19.
The three-member commission previously ordered each utility to establish temporary COVID-19 bill relief programs using 1% of its Washington retail revenue among other customer protections.
Customers are eligible for these funds if they earn no more than 200% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), and individual customers can receive up to $2,500 per year in additional bill assistance.
The programs approved today include:
- Avista’s $6.5 million Debt Relief Program;
- Cascade Natural Gas’ $2.5 million Big HEARTS Program;
- PacifiCorp’s $3.1 million Residential COVID-19 Bill Payment Assistance Program; and
- Puget Sound Energy’s $27.7 million Crisis Affected Customer Assistance Program.
The customer assistance funds are available in addition to any federal Low Income Home Energy Assistant Program (LIHEAP) grants or existing bill assistance programs, and long-term payment plan options.
Customers who received energy assistance in the past may automatically receive a grant to forgive past balances due, up to the $2,500 annual limit. Eligible customers who have not received energy assistance should reach out directly to their utilities for instructions on how to apply.
UTC-regulated electric and natural gas utilities are currently waiving late fees and cannot disconnect customers for nonpayment through July 31. Gov. Jay Inslee also extended his Ratepayer Assistance and Preservation of Essential Services proclamation, which prohibits all energy, telecommunications, and water providers in Washington state from charging late fees, disconnecting customers due to nonpayment, and refusing to reconnect customers due to nonpayment through July 31. The UTC will hold a meeting in May to assess customer overdue balances, assistance funds, and utility responses to the pandemic.
The commission will review Northwest Natural’s COVID-19 customer assistance program at the April 22 open meeting, with a proposed effective date of April 23.
The UTC is the state agency that regulates private, investor-owned electric and natural gas utilities in Washington. It is the commission’s responsibility to ensure regulated companies provide safe and reliable service to customers at reasonable rates, while allowing them the opportunity to earn a fair profit.
Editor’s note: Information about COVID-19 related customer assistance is available on the UTC website.