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Texas Low-Income Groups Seek Enhanced Protections For Hurricane Harvey Victims For 12-Month Period

Would Prohibit Disconnection For Non-Payment; Require Waiver Of Termination Fees, Late Fees, Deposits; Require Deferred Payment Plan


October 5, 2017

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Copyright 2010-17 EnergyChoiceMatters.com
Reporting by Paul Ring • ring@energychoicematters.com

Several Texas low-income and other consumer groups petitioned the Public Utility Commission of Texas to adopt enhanced customer protections for victims of Hurricane Harvey, and to require REPs to offer such protections, to be in place for one year after adoption of the rule.

In brief, the petitioners, which include Texas Legal Services Center (TLSC) and Texas Ratepayers' Organization to Save Energy (Texas ROSE), among others, requested that the PUCT adopt an emergency rule that:

• Continues waivers of disconnections for non-payment, security deposit rules and fees as provided in the prior PUCT Order supporting the Governor's Disaster Declaration and related memoranda

• Continue requirements for REPs to provide deferred payment plans to hurricane victims as provided in the PUCT Order supporting the Governor's Disaster Declaration

• Specifies conditions to be taken into account when estimating the bills of Harvey victims

• Clarifies and assure that all emergency rules are applied to all residential customers, including prepaid customers

The petitioners specifically said in their filing that, "The emergency rules being proposed would codify the short term agreement announced on September 7th to discontinue disconnection of service for nonpayment and to charge no fees through September 29."

However, it appears the prohibition on disconnects for non-pay was erroneously omitted from a section containing proposed language for the rule (while the language does require a REP to offer a deferred payment plan, which would generally prohibit DNP if adhered to, a customer is not required to accept a deferred payment plan, in which case DNP could proceed but for an emergency rule)

Specifically, the petitioners proposed language stating that, for a victim of Hurricane Harvey as defined below, retail electric providers shall:

(1) Not require a customer to post a security deposit or to require any form of financial security as a condition of service.

(2) Not charge fees relating to disconnections such as "disconnection notice fees", "disconnection recovery fees", and "reconnection fee".

(3) Not charge fees related to early cancellation of service.

(4) Not charge a residential customer a penalty or late fee on delinquent bills for electric service provided to the customer's service address.

(5) Not report any late payments by the residential customer to credit reporting agencies or to such other services whose use is to hinder the customers access to goods and services.

(6) Expedite move-in and move-out transactions.

(7) Offer customers who owe for back bills a deferred payment plan. A deferred payment plan implemented under this paragraph may not have an initial payment greater than 20% of the amount due and shall provide for equal installments for the remainder of not less than eight billing cycles. This subsection can be waived if the customer agrees to a greater initial payment and/or less installments in writing that includes notice of this paragraph.

(8) Offer a deferred payment plan to a residential customer, upon request or when he/she expresses an inability to pay his/her bills. A deferred payment plan implemented under this paragraph may not have an initial payment greater than 20% of the amount due and shall provide for equal installments for the remainder of not less than eight billing cycles. This subsection can be waived if the customer agrees to a greater initial payment and/or less installments in writing that includes notice of this paragraph.

(9) Establish a methodology for estimating usage that is applied consistently from customer to customer. Estimated bills shall take into consideration the disruptions of service caused by the hurricane and its aftermath; the abandonment of the resident unit by that customer, voluntarily or involuntarily; any government orders to disconnect service; and such other factors that could overstate usage at that service address.

The proposed rule would apply to victims of Hurricane Harvey located in 39 Texas counties, specifically: Aransas, Austin, Bastrop, Bee, Brazoria, Calhoun, Chambers, Colorado, DeWitt, Fayette, Fort Bend, Galveston, Goliad, Gonzales, Hardin, Harris, Jackson, Jasper, Jefferson, Karnes, Kleberg, Lavaca, Lee, Liberty, Matagorda, Montgomery, Newton, Nueces, Orange, Polk, Refugio, Sabine, San Jacinto, San Patricio, Tyler, Victoria, Walker, Waller, Wharton

Under the proposal, a victim of Hurricane Harvey could be verified by providing proof of prior residency within one of these affected areas, proof of application for or receipt of federal disaster assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency or other federal, state or local disaster assistance related to damages suffered in one of these affected areas, or verification of residing or having resided in a designated emergency shelter within Texas or one of these affected areas.

All REPs would be required to notify all applicants for residential service of this provision

Petitioners were Texas Legal Services Center (TLSC), Texas Ratepayers' Organization to Save Energy (Texas ROSE), City of Houston, AARP of Texas, One Voice Texas: Collaborative for Health and Human Services, and the Texas Association of Community Action Agencies

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