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Group Of Texas Retail Providers Proposes Rule That Triggers Disconnection Moratorium During Governor-Declared States Of Disaster, & Sunset Absent PUC Action

Several REPs Also Commit To Additional Consumer Protections As End Of DNP Moratorium Considered

June 2, 2021

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Copyright 2010-21
Reporting by Paul Ring •

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The Coalition of Competitive Retail Electric Providers (hereafter "Petitioners") requested that the Texas PUC amend PUC Subst. R. §§25.29 and 25.483 so that Governor-declared states of disaster caused by catastrophic events such as tornadoes or hurricanes become events triggering a temporary prohibition on disconnections.

Petitioners also requested that the PUC immediately end the current moratorium on disconnections which has lasted for over three months and which, "threatens competition in the retail electric industry."

Under the proposed rules, the term state of disaster shall mean a day when a state of disaster is declared by the Governor of the State of Texas, or when the duration of such disaster has occurred on any one of the preceding two calendar days in a county.

The petitioners propose that, "A disconnection moratorium for a state of disaster shall not last longer than 5 calendar days unless specifically continued for up to an additional 5 calendar days by written Commission order issued following notice and opportunity for interested persons to comment. The Commission may further continue such disconnection moratorium for subsequent periods of up to 5 calendar days by this process. Notice and comment on the continuance of a disconnection moratorium for a state of disaster shall specifically consider whether the disaster impacts the generation, distribution, or sale of electricity."

The Petitioners said, "The proposed rule amendments would protect the public by ensuring that members of the public are not at risk for disconnections during declared disasters such as hurricanes and tornadoes. While necessary to protect life and property in emergencies, prohibitions on disconnect for nonpayment interrupt the normal course of business for electric providers and can create long-term market disruptions if left in place too long. Thus, Petitioners propose amendments to existing PUC Subst. R. §§25.29 and 25.483 to require that disconnections moratoriums can only last five days unless renewed by the Commission for subsequent five-day periods after notice and opportunity for comment. The amendments would provide certainty to electricity providers and ensure that a prohibition on disconnections would end after a reasonable time period."

This proposed protection would be in addition to current weather-based and other triggers for DNP moratoriums in the current rules.

Based on time stamps of the filings, the Petitioners filed their request on June 1 almost simultaneously with the public release of a memo from Commissioner Will McAdams who proposed that the PUC end the disconnection for non-pay moratorium applicable to retail electric providers which was adopted after the February winter weather event (in other words, the Petitioners' proposal was not in response to the public release of McAdams's memo)

Petitioners include 3000 Energy Corp. d/b/a Penstar Power; Brooklet Energy Distribution, LLC; Eligo Energy TX, LLC; Pogo Energy, LLC; Summer Energy, LLC; and Young Energy, LLC d/b/a Payless Power.

Petitioners serve more than 130,000 customers in Texas

Separately, several REPs, in response to McAdams's proposal to end the current DNP moratorium, pledged to offer additional consumer protections beyond the current rules. REPs noted that REPs are still obligated to offer all customers a deferred payment plan upon request under a prior COVID-related order from the PUC

The NRG REPs said that, "During and after Winter Storm Uri, the NRG REPs have provided several bill payment assistance options, including payment extensions and deferred payment plans. The deferred payment plan terms offered to customers are often more generous than the Commission rule requirements that the down payment amount should be no greater than 50% of the amount due, with at least five (5) equal installments."

"At the end of the disconnection moratorium, for residential and small commercial customers with past due balances at risk of disconnection as of June 1, 2021, the NRG REPs will offer a deferred payment plan with a down payment of no greater than 35% of the amount due, with up to seven (7) installments," the NRG REPs said

TXU said that, "TXU Energy commits to continue to offer deferred payment plans to customers in keeping with the spirit of the Commission's March 26, 2020 order [the COVID deferred payment plan order] through the summer, regardless of whether the Commission's order remains in effect."

"TXU Energy will also offer reduced down payment amounts to support customers seeking to enter in deferred payment plans," TXU said

"TXU Energy will offer customers aged 65 and over additional deferred payment plan flexibility through longer deferral terms, if needed," TXU said

Constellation said that, "at customers' requests, Constellation will work with them to provide a deferred payment plan with more flexible terms than otherwise required under 25.480(j)(2)(B)(i) through the end of 2021."

REPs also noted various contributions they have made to their customer aid and payment assistance programs or third-party public assistance programs, and that they would work with assistance agencies to provide further bill payment assistance to customers.

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