Docket Number: U-200281
Private electric and natural gas utilities cannot charge late fees or deposits
LACEY, Wash. - State regulators extended protections for energy customers who continue to experience financial hardship in the wake of COVID-19.
Acknowledging the compounding debts of customers and the devastating impact reinstated fees could have on the state’s most vulnerable customers, the commission extended its ban on fees originally set to expire today. Under the ban, the state’s private, investor-owned electric and natural gas utilities cannot charge customers fees for late payments, disconnecting service, reconnecting service, or any related site visits. The commission also temporarily exempted utilities from an existing UTC rule that allows energy companies to require a deposit from residential customers in certain circumstances.
These protections will remain in place until 30 days after the commission completes a review of its existing credit and collection practices, which the commission expects to complete over the next year.
In its order, the commission stated that, “… the suspension of fees and deposits until the rulemaking is complete will prevent further harm to customers who are struggling to manage household debts coming out of the winter months during an ongoing pandemic and will allow the Commission to better understand the impact of these fees on low income and the Joint Utilities’ most vulnerable customers.”
- In April 2020, Gov. Jay Inslee issued a proclamation banning all energy, water, and telecommunication companies from disconnecting customers due to nonpayment, and later extended it through Sept. 30, 2021.
- In 2020 the UTC organized a COVID-19 response workgroup of stakeholders to facilitate development of guidelines to make sure that customers experiencing economic hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic maintain access to essential services after the proclamation expires.
- As a result of this stakeholder work, the UTC issued a disconnection moratorium and term sheet for commission regulated energy utilities, and later issued a similar moratorium and term sheet for commission regulated water utilities. The UTC extended the disconnection bans through Sept. 30, 2021, and certain consumer protections through March 30, 2022.
- Under the direction of the commission, in March 2020 UTC staff also opened a rulemaking in Docket U-210800 to evaluate whether the commission should update its existing credit and collection rules to protect consumers more equitably.
The UTC regulates the rates and services of the state’s investor-owned electric and natural gas utilities, landline telephone companies, and private water systems among other industries. 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.