Texas PUC Staff Recommend Denying Texas Legal Services Center Petition For Disconnection Moratorium
May 8, 2020 Email This Story Copyright 2010-20 EnergyChoiceMatters.com
Reporting by Paul Ring • firstname.lastname@example.org
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Staff of the Public Utility Commission of Texas have recommended denying a petition from Texas Legal Services Center and several other similar groups, which had sought, among other things, to apply a moratorium on utility shutoffs to residential utility services statewide during and for 30 days after the termination of the COVID-19 state of emergency.
The petition had been filed on March 20, before the Electricity Relief Program, later adopted by the PUC, was first publicly proposed in a memo from PUC Chairman DeAnn Walker
Texas Legal Services Center's sought emergency rule is proposed to apply to all Texans regardless of income, and would include a disconnection moratorium as well as a prohibition on late fees.
Staff noted that the Commission may choose from several possible courses of action with respect to the petition: (1) deny the petition and reject the proposed rule or (2) initiate a rulemaking to address the issues raised in the petition.
Staff recommended that the Commission deny the petition, as well as the request to initiate an emergency rulemaking proceeding, for several reasons.
Staff noted that the PUC has already taken actions to address the effects of COVID-19 on utility consumers in Texas, including:
• establishing by Commission order the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program (ERP) as a customer assistance program to protect eligible residential customers of retail electric service in the areas of Texas open to customer choice, through July 17, 2020, to be extended by the Commission if it determines that the need for the program continues to exist
• ordering Retail Electric Providers ('REPs') to cease disconnections of eligible residential customers in the Electricity Relief Program
• requiring ERCOT Transmission and Distribution Utilities ('TDUs') to file reports required by the Order and opening a project for that purpose
• requiring by Commission order that REPs offer deferred payment plans to customers who have experienced financial hardship due to COVID-19
• directing REPs to inform customers who indicate an inability to pay or make a deferred payment plan installment of the ERP and instruct them on how to self-enroll
• ordering a moratorium on disconnections for non-payment implemented by the TDUs through March 29, 2020
• granting exceptions to certain electric rules that relate to the assessment of late fees on customers for delinquent bills, disconnection of service for nonpayment, and assessment of late fees for customers with delinquent bills
"In light of these actions by the Commission, the proposed emergency rules is not necessary," Staff said in a recommended order