MEUW Weekly :: June 16, 2020

PSC provides guidance on rollback of pandemic-related rules suspensions: On June 11, the Public Service Commission (PSC) voted to establish a timeline to reinstate certain provisions of the Wisconsin Administrative Code that had been suspended during the public health emergency. There are four key dates:

On July 15, utilities may begin providing disconnect notices for nonpayment and start charging late payment fees again. Utilities will be able to opt-in to continue waiving late fees through December 31, 2020, without violating tariff provisions, so long as the practice is applied in a non-discriminatory way. Late fees may only be assessed on amounts incurred beginning July 15 or later.

July 25 is the first date that utilities may disconnect electric service – for nonpayment and for those customers who requested and received new service but did not provide documentation of residency and identity. As always, proper notice is required prior to disconnection.  

July 31 is the first date utilities may require certain customers with certain unpaid balances to provide a cash deposit or other guarantee before providing new residential service to those customers. 

August 15 is the final day that utilities will be required to offer a deferred payment agreement (DPA) to any customer who is unable to pay. After that date, the utility may decline to offer a subsequent DPA and initiate the disconnection process. Municipal utilities may continue to offer a DPA to a customer who is a tenant at a rental dwelling unit until August 15, regardless of whether it is specified in the utility’s tariffs. Per the Code, “The utility is required to offer deferred payment agreements only to residential accounts and may offer such agreements to other customers” – meaning utilities will no longer be required to offer DPAs to farm, commercial and industrial customers after August 15.

In a statement after the decisions were made, PSC Chairperson Rebecca Cameron Valcq said, “As our state’s businesses reopen and people return to work, we must calibrate consumer protections with costs to all utility customers. The longer deferral of payments are allowed, the more it will impact utility bills for everyone. I strongly encourage utilities to provide extra flexibility for those whose lives and employment continue to be severely impacted by this disease.”

The Commissioners also decided to require utilities that plan to disconnect customers for nonpayment to file their plan with PSC Consumer Affairs staff at least five business days prior to implementing their plans. The plan needs to note the threshold past-due amount(s) being used to issue a disconnect notice, DPA requirements, and information about any minimum payment options customers must pay to avoid being disconnected.

PSC staff has indicated they are working on a standardized method of reporting disconnect plans in order to lessen demand on utilities’ resources and time. Additional details are expected soon.

The Commission Order in this docket is anticipated in the coming days. MEUW will be working with PSC staff to hold a briefing session for municipal utility representatives prior to July 15.

MEUW hosted a call on June 16 to share information and collect questions from members; notes from the discussion are available here. Call participants raised good questions about a number of topics, including how the medical extension will work for customers who are infected and sick with COVID-19. We are also aware that many utilities will face system issues with the way late payment fees have been changed. MEUW plans to follow up with PSC staff to seek clarification and will pass along new insights once they’re available. Members are encouraged to send questions directly to Executive Director Tim Heinrich.

Two August events now canceled due to pandemic: We have decided to cancel two upcoming training workshops because of pandemic-related travel restrictions impacting many of the presenters and participants. The Watt Hour Metering Workshop (scheduled for Aug. 3-6) and the Underground Distribution School (scheduled for Aug. 18-19) are both canceled. Neither of these training session will be rescheduled this year, although both will be offered again in coming years. Those who have registered and paid for the training will be contacted directly about refunds. We are continuing to evaluate other training scheduled in August and September and remain hopeful we will be able to hold them as planned.

Survey data provides insights about customer service practices: As MEUW members prepare for many regulatory rules to be reinstated later this summer, many are evaluating their customer-related policies and practices. And it’s always good to know what others are doing for comparison. During the summer of 2019, MEUW conducted a census survey to collect information about utilities’ accounting and customer service practices, including data about deposits and disconnection thresholds, credit card fees, and the like. The results from 52 utilities provide some interesting insights worth reviewing to access the survey feedback (available in an Excel spreadsheet), download the file here

2020 Wage & Benefits Survey underway:  We are now collecting data for the association’s annual Wage & Benefits Survey. Each utility has received instructions to complete the online survey tool, which is due by June 30. A list of utilities that have responded to this year’s survey is being updated here. Only the utilities that provide information for the survey will receive a copy of the results when they are distributed later this summer.