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Texas REP Alleges "Systemic Problems" In Weather Emergency Disconnection Moratoriums, Seeks Rulemaking

Suggests "Pause" In Enforcement Activities Pending Resolution

July 10, 2023

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Copyright 2010-23
Reporting by Paul Ring •

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Young Energy LLC, d/b/a Payless Power (Payless Power) in a filing with the Texas PUC alleged that there are, "systemic problems concerning the disconnection prohibition" which applies during weather emergencies, as Young Energy suggested a workshop and possible rule changes

Young Energy's comments were made in a Texas PUC project which invited stakeholder comment on rulemaking priorities

Young Energy alleged that, "Two major systemic issues impact REPs’ ability to comply with Rule 25.483(j)," which provides that a REP shall not authorize a disconnection for nonpayment (DNP) for any customer in a county in which an extreme weather emergency occurs.

"First, Transmission & Distribution Utilities (TDUs) are not required to provide REPs with the county of record of the residential customer," Young Energy alleged

"Second, the lack of communication between the TDUs and REPs regarding the weather moratorium itself is an issue," Young Energy alleged

Concerning the customer's county of record, Young Energy said that TDUs should be required to provide REPs with the county assigned to each ESIID for which they are REP of record.

"Since National Weather Service (NWS) extreme weather advisories are issued county-by-county, REPs may unknowingly send disconnect requests for meters located in an affected county due to lack of accurate county locational information. REPs do not have reasonable alternative routes to acquire accurate county information independently from the TDUs’ systems. Independent databases of addresses often have discrepancies with regards to the counties associated with street addresses. A proposed electronic information exchange referred to as 'Texas SET 5.0' could provide the county name to the REP upon enrollment of a customer, but the upgrade to this system has been repeatedly delayed. Implementation of this system will help REPs comply with Rule 25.483(j), protecting the customers from inadvertent disconnections," Young Energy alleged

Concerning communication between REPs and TDUs, Young Energy alleged, "The process to observe weather moratoriums is strikingly unsophisticated: both TDUs and REPs independently monitor emails manually for NWS notification emails; then, staff for each must manually enter moratorium information into their systems. Notifications from TDUs to REPs are likewise by email and, thus, must be manually identified and entered into the systems. This process presents opportunity for delay and user error."

"A more sophisticated electronic transaction system with regards to the weather moratorium invocation itself would help protect customers," Young Energy said

"[C]ontinuation of TDUs and REPs maintaining separate systems essentially 'double-bills' rate payers, as both TDUs and REPs incorporate the cost of developing compliance systems into their respective rates. In the long run, all companies would benefit and incidences of mistaken disconnection orders should fall substantially. Until such time as there is a handshake between the REP and TDU regarding the county assigned to an ESIID, there will continue to be disconnection requests offered by REPs during weather moratoriums," Young Energy said

"The Commission should encourage elimination of duplication of software costs borne (ultimately) by the consumer. The current system seems to have required both TDUs and REPs to make basically the same system upgrades and enhancements needed to capture and process the external data that drives the establishment of weather moratoriums. This can’t be inexpensive. The enhancements needed to receive and process external data, with formats are not within a company’s control and can (and do) frequently break. These systems are essentially the same for both TDUs and REPs. Moreover, prepaid billing systems are required to bill daily and reconcile; the increased complication adds difficulty and expense when attempting to integrate new functionality into existing software systems. Ultimately the cost of system enhancements are borne by the consumer. It seems the most efficient approach and least costly to the consumer is to require these functions be performed by the TDUs which have been performing the function for many years," Young Energy said

"With the coming of Advanced Metering Systems and other modern technologies, the timeliness and accuracy of communication between the TDU and the REP has become much more important," Young Energy said

"Additionally, Commission rules and ERCOT protocols rightly observe that TDUs are better suited than REPs to hold the responsibility to prevent disconnects during a weather moratorium," Young Energy said

"After all, TDUs determine when they will perform disconnections, just as TDUs determine when they will perform reconnections, work order requests, start-ups and move-ins, and just as TDUs set billing cycles, assign load profiles, and assign customer classes. REPs have no ability to perform such tasks and must abide by the processes and determinations of the TDU. Indeed, TDUs often implement moratoriums throughout their entire territory, not merely in a county with a NWS weather advisory, and REPs must abide by such moratoriums," Young Energy said

Young Energy also suggested that a safe harbor period -- such as a two-hour safe harbor period following the invocation of the weather moratorium by the TDU -- should be allowed before the REP is considered to have violated the extreme weather moratorium.

"As communication between the TDU and the REP becomes more and more instantaneous, a safe harbor recognizes the practical realities of the administration of weather moratoriums. The implementation of weather moratoriums is not automated. Instead, extreme weather moratoriums on disconnections are invoked by notification emails from TDUs, which must then be checked and logged manually by REP staff. Thus, as a practical matter, it is impossible for anyone, including the staff at a small REP such as Young Energy, to be immediately and instantly aware of a notification by email, much less implement a halt to disconnection requests into complex systems," Young Energy said

Young Energy recommended that the Commission initiate a rulemaking proceeding to implement changes to PUC Rule 25.483(j), addressing the following issues, as stated by Young Energy

• "Setting a standard by which TDUs shall communicate the invocation of a weather moratorium. Currently, TDUs invoke the weather moratorium by emailing the Commission and the REP. Such emails must be manually reviewed and their information manually entered, presenting opportunity for delay and user error."

• "Requiring TDUs should be required to provide REPs with the county assigned to each ESIID for which they are REP of record."

• "Setting a safe harbor for compliance for entities as proposed by ARM: 'A REP must discontinue authorizations of disconnections for non-payment within two hours of receiving notice that a TDU [has] determined that an extreme weather emergency has been issued for a county in its service area.'"

To the extent a rulemaking is not initiated, Young Energy suggested that the PUC under other measures, including (as stated by Young Energy):

• Sponsor a live and video conference or workshop and strongly request participation of TDUs and REPs. Participants could explore the possibility of developing or sharing automated systems or programs that notify TDUs when the NWS declares an extreme weather event. Presumably, the costs of these programs have been built into the TDUs’ rate base, and consumers should not have to pay extra for REPs to re-create existing computer programs, Young Energy said

• Request that each TDU assign a representative to work with other TDUs to develop a standardized communication system for the invocation of weather moratoriums that would include a standardized system for county locations.

• Encourage ERCOT to complete the proposed electronic information exchange referred to as "Texas SET 5.0" so that county names can be provided upon enrollment of a customer.

• Direct DICE (PUC Enforcement Division) to implement a two-hour safe harbor as explained above when considering whether disconnections are violations for which penalties should issue.

"Consideration should be given to a pause on enforcement activities until these efforts have been completed and then make a determination whether enforcement for historical incidences are a cost-effective and efficient means of increasing compliance and reducing the opportunity for disconnections during moratoriums," Young Energy said

Young Energy noted previously reported recent settlements concerning DNP orders submitted during weather moratoriums, and alleged that, "Sanctions also do nothing to encourage TDUs to share databases with REPs or to eliminate the expensive, wasteful, inefficient and imprecise practice of having each TDU and each REP create their own systems for implementation of the prohibition on disconnections during weather moratoriums. A PUC-sponsored workshop or project such as this Project 55156 could address these systemic issues and the responsibilities of REPs and TDUs. Possible rule changes could be explored on issues such as the disconnect between PUC SUBST. R. 25.483(j) and PURA § 39.101(h); communications between TDUs and REPs and implementation of a common database for county locational information and for the beginning and end of disconnection moratoriums; and reasonable safe harbors for purposes of determining compliance ..."

Young Energy also alleged that the PUC rule concerning the REP prohibition on DNPs during a weather emergencies diverges from PURA

Young Energy said that Rule 25.483(j) states that a REP, "shall not authorize a disconnection for nonpayment of electric service." (emphasis added by Young).

Young Energy said that, in contrast, PURA only prohibits a REP from actually disconnecting service, quoting PURA §39.101(h) as stating, "A retail electric provider . . . may not disconnect service to a residential customer during an extreme weather emergency or on a weekend day."

"The current rule language, then exceeds the statutory prohibition which only prohibits disconnection, rather than authorization to disconnect," Young Energy said

"The Commission should take this opportunity to review Rule 25.483(j) and amend same to comply with the exact directive of PURA," Young Energy said

Project 55156


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