State regulators approve Puget Sound Energy to resume credit and collections processes with modifications

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Docket Numbers: UE-220066 and UG-220067 (Consolidated)

Modifications include increased outreach and education about energy assistance programs

LACEY, Wash. – Today, state regulators approved Puget Sound Energy’s request to resume its credit and collections practices with modifications. The company paused its collections practices during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The modifications require PSE to conduct targeted outreach to all customers with a balance above $250 that is more than 90 days overdue. Outreach must include telephone or written communication to customers that includes information about bill assistance, payment management, and other programs that the customer may be eligible for without threatening disconnection. PSE will also identify and refer customers to local Community Action Agencies for additional assistance.

The order states that if a customer fails to take action with PSE or a local Community Action Agency regarding their past-due balance within 30 days of the customer communication, PSE may place the customer on a phased debt collection plan, known as dunning. Disconnections for non-payment are limited to customers with at least $250 of unpaid, overdue bills.

As of October 2023, PSE reported a total of $140 million in unpaid, overdue balances.

The commission approved PSE to resume credit and collections processes to address the significant cost of overdue balances and the potential impact if the total unpaid balances were distributed to all customers for recovery.  The order recognizes the importance of providing extensive protection and resources for customers who need assistance to pay their energy bills.

However, to mitigate the impact on vulnerable customers, the commission determined that unpaid, overdue balances that occurred during the COVID-19 disconnection moratorium, spanning from March 2020 through Dec. 2021, will not be recovered from individual customers. Instead, the order notes that PSE may recover these costs through its rates.

The modified practices go into effect immediately.

The order emphasizes that the commission expects, “PSE and all other utilities to prioritize principles of energy justice, afford meaningful opportunities for public participation, and conduct thorough equity analyses when developing credit and collections policies that could disproportionately harm already vulnerable populations.”

Additionally, the order states that “achieving equitable access to essential utility services is a vital public interest that must be central to our regulation of customer arrearages, disconnections, and affordability programs. While this order allows a limited resumption of the dunning process, our work to advance energy justice and equitable utility practices is far from complete.”

Background Information 

On Dec. 22, 2022, the commission approved Final Order 24/10 in Docket UE-220066. In the order, PSE agreed to continue its existing credit and collections processes until the conclusion of the commission proceeding being conducted in Docket U-210800.  

As part of this agreement, PSE did not conduct targeted outreach or disconnect customers unless their past-due balance exceeded $1,000, and they were not considered to be an estimated low-income or known low-income customer. PSE limited targeted outreach and collections practices to customers with past-due balances greater than $1,000.  

Bellevue-based PSE provides electricity service to more than 1.1 million electric customers in eight Washington counties: Island, King, Kitsap, Kittitas, Pierce, Skagit, Thurston, and Whatcom. PSE also provides natural gas service to more than 800,000 customers in six Washington counties: King, Kittitas, Lewis, Pierce, Snohomish, and Thurston.    

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 equitable, safe, and reliable service to customers at reasonable rates, while allowing them the opportunity to earn a fair profit.


Editor’s note: You can find the final order and all other documents related to this case on our website.