MEUW Weekly :: March 18, 2021

PSC okays expiration of shutoff moratorium; disconnects can resume April 15: At its open meeting today, the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC) unanimously agreed to take no action on the matter of disconnection and refusal of service in the PSC’s ongoing docket related to the public health emergency. The decision effectively means that utilities will be allowed to disconnect residential customers beginning April 15, 2021, when the cold-weather moratorium on shutoffs expires.

Utilities that planned to begin disconnecting in April were required to file disconnect plans with the PSC prior to February 15. The Commissioners determined that utilities must file an updated plan if the substance of the original disconnect plan changes prior to November 1. 

The decision to rollback the various orders that have been in place during the last year because of the pandemic came after considerable discussion. PSC Chair Rebecca Cameron Valcq noted that the daily number of new COVID-19 cases had dropped to 411 as of March 17, compared to 4,870 the last time the Commissioners discussed this docket in October 2020.

MEUW, along with WPPI Energy and Wisconsin Utility Association (WUA), the trade group that represents the state’s investor-owned utilities (IOUs), had filed comments noting that disconnection is always a last resort, but an important tool to spur customer action. In discussing her decision, Chair Valcq said, “There is no doubt that we are ready to start using that tool (disconnection) to manage arrears.”

Commissioner Ellen Nowak noted, “We’re all moving back to a more normal place and we need to allow utilities to do what they need to do.”

Commissioner Tyler Huebner urged utilities to show greater flexibility working out payment arrangements with customers, noting that municipal utilities generally require higher down payments than the IOUs. He commented that even with the large amount of energy assistance funds, “there are still some customers who fall through the cracks.” Chair Valcq encouraged all utilities to carefully review the factors that should be considered when establishing deferred payment agreements (DPAs) that are outlined in PSC 113.0404 of the Administrative Code.

The Commissioners also opted not to act on the reporting requirements and waivers of late-payment charges that have been in place with the COVID-19 docket. That decision allows for quarterly reporting requirements related to collections and arrearages to continue until further order from the PSC. Utilities are allowed to request the ability to waive late payment charges through April 15. In addition, municipal utilities may continue to choose whether they wish to offer DPAs to rental unit tenants through temporary tariff changes.

Complete details will be provided in the written order. MEUW will continue to provide updates as needed.

Kayleigh Chiono, Consumer Affairs Analyst in the PSC’s Division of Digital Access, Consumer and Environmental Affairs, will provide an update and take questions about the disconnection process at MEUW’s Credit & Collections Seminar on Wednesday, March 24. Click here for details.

Monday is deadline to register for Credit and Collections Seminar: Every other year, MEUW holds a seminar to share information about the rules and regulations for utility collections and provide attendees with the most up-to-date details to make the process effective and efficient. This year’s program is especially important because of the COVID-related suspension of utility shut-offs in 2020.

The virtual seminar is planned for Wednesday, March 24, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. The agenda includes a refresher from the Public Service Commission (PSC) about disconnections, deferred payment agreements, deposits, and foreclosures. Attendees also will have a chance to discuss bankruptcies, learn more about Statewide Debt Collection (SDC) and Tax Refund Intercept Process (TRIP) and get the very latest about resources available to help customers who qualify for energy assistance. The complete agenda and registration details are available here.

Sign up now for Confined Space Entry webinar: MEUW is hosting a Confined Space Entry online training on Tuesday, April 6. The three-hour webinar begins at 8:30 a.m. and is designed to refresh participants on regulatory requirements and hazard controls for Permit-Required Confined Spaces. It will be conducted by Tim Palet, an instructor who brings decades of knowledge and experience on the subject. Topics to be covered include air monitoring, fall protection, ventilation, and non-entry rescue. Registration details are here.

Registration now open for Electric Operations Expo: MEUW plans to hold an outdoor event with breakout sessions, a large trade show, equipment demonstrations, and a lot of networking on Thursday, April 29, at the Sauk County Fairgrounds in Baraboo. The 2021 “Electric Operations Expo” is being held in partnership with the Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association (WECA) and Wisconsin Utility Suppliers Association (WUSA). Personnel from cooperative and municipal utilities have been invited to take part. More than 70 vendors have already registered for exhibit space.

The event will begin at 8:30 a.m. and conclude by 2 p.m. It will be held rain or shine (the typical daytime high in late April is 55°). Green Bay Packers Hall of Famer Mark Tauscher will be the keynote speaker after lunch. Graduating apprentices who would typically have been celebrated at the January banquet will be recognized, and MEUW’s Safety Achievement Awards for 2020 performance also will be presented.

Full details and registration information is available here. The “Early Bird” registration discount is available until April 1.