Texas PUC Chair Proposes Electricity Relief Program That Would Reimburse Retail Electric Providers, At Standard Rate, For Unpaid Bills Due To Disconnect Moratorium During COVID-19 Emergency
Program To Be Funded Via New TDU Rider Applicable To All Customer Classes
March 24, 2020 Email This Story Copyright 2010-20 EnergyChoiceMatters.com
Reporting by Paul Ring • email@example.com
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Texas PUC Chairman DeAnn Walker has proposed for consideration at the PUC's upcoming open meeting an Electricity Relief Program that would reimburse retail electric providers for energy charges associated with providing continuity of service to residential customers during a disconnection moratorium during the COVID-19 Emergency
Disbursements to REPs
would be calculated using a standardized energy charge based on an average energy
cost of $0.04 per kWh. REPs would cease being charged delivery charges for affected customers
The program would be funded by a new TDU rider equal to $0.65 per megawatt hour (MWh) applicable to all customer classes
The proposal, whose details are below, recognizes that further details of the COVID-19 Electricity Relief
Program will need to be addressed in the coming days and the plan will need to be supplemented
and may need to be modified.
Walker also proposes other measures related to late payment fees and deferred payment plans noted further below
As proposed, the Electricity Relief Program provides as follows:
During the duration of Governor Abbott's COVID-19 Disaster Declaration and any
extensions, the Commission authorizes creation of a customer assistance program for
residential customers meeting eligibility criteria approved by the Commission
(COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program).
The COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program creates a temporary exemption from
disconnections for non-payment for eligible residential customers in areas open to
customer choice, thus protecting affected residential customers and reducing the
exposure of the competitive market from excessive COVID-19-related bad debt that
could lead to industry upheaval and bankruptcies.
Only the residential classes will be eligible for the COVID-19 Electricity Relief
Program and suspension of disconnection for non-payment. Retail electric providers
(REPs) will contact residential customers to place the customer on deferred payment
plans before submitting reimbursement claims.
The Commission will issue an order under 16 Texas
Administrative Code (TAC) §§ 25.480(j)(1)(B) and 25.498(i)(1)(B) requiring REPs
to offer deferred payment plans to customers who have experienced financial
hardship due to the state of disaster Governor Abbott has declared for COVID-19. As
provided by those rules, REPs may implement switch-holds for customers who enter
into a deferred payment plan. When a customer contacts a REP and indicates an
inability to pay a bill, or to make a deferred payment plan installment, the REP will
inform the customer of the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program and will provide
instructions for the customer to contact the Low-Income List Administrator (LILA) to
The moratorium on disconnections for non-payment currently implemented by the
transmission and distribution utilities (TDUs) will end upon the implementation of
the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program as described below.
TDUs will implement a rider to facilitate funding the COVID-19 Electricity Relief
Program for customers within the customer choice areas of the Electric Reliability
Council of Texas (ERCOT). The rider will collect funds to be utilized to reimburse
TDUs and REPs for unpaid bills from eligible residential customers experiencing
unemployment due to the impacts of COVID-19 and to ensure continuity of electric
service for those residential customers.
The rider will be a set amount per kilowatt hour ("kWh") with funds collected and
administered by the TDUs across all customer classes. The initial rider will be based
on $0.65 per megawatt hour (MWh). The TDUs will implement the rider within ten
days of the Commission's order establishing the COVID-19 Electricity Relief
Program. The rider will have an immediate effective date.
For the initial balance of the fund, each TDU will verify the amount it needs based
upon estimated reimbursement requests. ERCOT will provide the initial contribution
of up to a total of $15 million to create the TDUs' initial fund balance from the cash
reserves that it has for implementation of the real-time co-optimization project. Each
TDU must repay ERCOT for the initial balance contributions received from ERCOT.
Amounts to be repaid to ERCOT will be collected through the TDU riders and repaid
prior to the end of the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program.
If the rider is collecting insufficient funds to cover the TDU and REP eligible costs,
then the TDU will file a request for an adjustment to the rider. At any point during
the pendency of the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program, TDUs or REPs may
petition the Commission for a review of or amendment to the COVID-19 Electricity
Relief Program, including adjustments to the rider. The Commission will act on any
petition within 30 days.
The fund will reimburse the following entities and eligible costs: REPs with energy
charges related to eligible residential customers with an unpaid, past due electric bill
subject to a disconnection for non-payment notice; TDUs for delivery charges related
to eligible residential customers with an unpaid, past due electric bill subject to a
disconnection for non-payment notice; the third-party administrator to cover its
reasonable costs of administrating the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program
eligibility process; and ERCOT for the initial contribution.
Disbursements to REPs
will be calculated using a standardized energy charge based on an average energy
cost of $0.04 per kWh.
The following customer identification process will be used, facilitated by the
third-party vendor, who is the same entity as the Low-Income List Administrator
(LILA). A residential customer who cannot pay their electric bill due to
unemployment or low-income from the effects of the COVID-19 disaster must
contact the LILA. The residential customer must provide the LILA with an
attestation of unemployment (to be followed by documentation of unemployment
within 30 days) and sufficient information to identify the customer's electric service
account (e.g., service address, account number, and telephone number). The LILA
will compare the customer's information to the lists of residential customers
submitted by REPs to create files of matching residential customers eligible for the
COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program. Each REP must retrieve from the third-party
vendor the list of residential customers served by that REP who are eligible for the
COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program.
REPs will cease submitting disconnection for non-payment orders for residential
customers identified as eligible for the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program.
A residential customer who demonstrates eligibility for the COVID-19 Electricity
Relief Program is deemed as having established satisfactory credit for the purpose of
16 TAC § 25.478(a).
TDUs will cease charging REPs for delivery charges related to customers identified
as eligible for the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program.
The suspension of disconnections for non-payment and addition of residential
customers to the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program will end six months after
implementation unless extended by the Commission. If the disaster declaration has
not been lifted at the end of the six-month period, the COVID-19 Electricity Relief
Program may be extended for an additional period based upon a reassessment of the
need for the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program by the Commission and based
upon the status of the disaster declaration. The riders will remain in place and
reimbursements to the TDUs and REPs will continue after the COVID-19 Electricity
Relief Program has otherwise ended to complete any remaining COVID-19
Electricity Relief Program cost recovery and to disburse all reimbursement amounts
or remaining balances.
Final claims for reimbursement must be submitted to TDUs not later than 90 days
after the end of the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program. For any amounts
recovered under the rider that remain after the end of the COVID-19 Electricity
Relief Program, the TDUs will issue a refund through REPs to end-use customers in
the same manner the rider was charged. REPs must pass through any monies
refunded to customers.
TDUs will prepare reports on the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program to be filed at
the Commission every 30 days providing data showing aggregate amounts of
reimbursements to the TDUs and REPs. Reimbursements and collections will be
subject to reconciliation and audit by the Commission.
REPs will submit one spreadsheet with reimbursement claims to TDUs monthly on
the 15th of each month. TDUs will create a standard spreadsheet format; however, the
spreadsheet will include the following information: ESI IDs; kWh usage; kWh usage
x $0.04; and Invoice Number. Reimbursement payments to REPs will be processed
within 14 days.
REPs will reflect reimbursement sought through the COVID-19 Electricity Relief
Program on the affected customer's account and cease to seek continued collection
where funds are received from the program.
The Commission will waive all relevant deadlines within its rules related to required
changes to the REP's Terms of Service and Electricity Facts Labels contract
documents relevant to the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program.
The Commission will issue an order granting authority for the TDUs to create a
regulatory asset to capture all reimbursement amounts and the ERCOT contribution.
The funds collected from the rider will be used to offset the regulatory asset and the
ERCOT contribution repayment. The rider will stay in effect until the regulatory
asset balance is zero and ERCOT has been reimbursed.
Walker also proposes that the PUC grant an exception to 16 TAC § 25.480(c), which relates to assessment of late fees on customers for delinquent bills.
Walker also recommends that the Commission issue an order, as provided by 16 Texas
Administrative Code (TAC) §§ 25.480(j)(1)(B) and 25.498(i)(1)(B), directing retail electric
providers to offer a deferred payment plan to customers, upon request.