Texas TDU Enters $400,000 Settlement To Resolve Alleged Disconnection For Non-Payment Violations
April 1, 2021 Email This Story Copyright 2010-21 EnergyChoiceMatters.com
Reporting by Paul Ring • email@example.com
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Updated, 7:51 pm ET with statement from CenterPoint Energy Houston Electric, LLC
CenterPoint Energy Houston Electric, LLC provided the following statement concerning the matter:
Because this settlement about 2018-2019 disconnects for non-payment is still proceeding through the regulatory process, CenterPoint Energy declines to comment.
--- Statement from CenterPoint Energy Houston Electric, LLC
CenterPoint Energy Houston Electric, LLC ("CenterPoint Houston") has entered into a settlement with Staff of the Public Utility Commission of Texas (Commission) under which CenterPoint Houston would pay an administrative penalty of $200,000 and also make a charitable contribution of $200,000 to resolve alleged violations of 16 Texas Administrative Code (TAC) § 25.214(c) and (d), and association provisions of CenterPoint Houston's retail delivery tariff, concerning CenterPoint Houston's alleged execution of disconnections for non-pay during an extreme weather emergency
The settlement states that, "Section 126.96.36.199 of CenterPoint Houston's Tariff states that CenterPoint Houston shall not disconnect service to a retail customer in certain circumstances, including during extreme weather emergencies as defined in Commission rules. An 'extreme weather emergency' is defined in 16 TAC § 25.4830)(1)(B) as a day when 'the NWS [National Weather Service] issues a heat advisory for a county. or when such advisory has been issued on any one of the preceding two calendar days in a county.'"
PURA § 39.101(h) prohibits a REP from initiating a disconnection of service to a residential customer during specified extreme weather emergencies. Under 16 TAC § 25.483(j), a REP is prohibited from, 'authoriz[ing] a disconnection for nonpayment of electric service for any customer in a county in which an extreme weather emergency occurs.'"
The settlement states that, "Prior to making system and process improvements in 2020, CenterPoint Houston used a manual process to set a system flag to stop completion of DNP requests received from REPs during a weather moratorium."
Under this prior process, according to the settlement, CenterPoint Houston received weather information, including weather alerts and heat advisories, by monitoring the National Weather Service (NWS) website and from public sources like the Weather Channel and AccuWeather. Upon receipt of a heat advisory, CenterPoint Houston personnel reviewed the heat advisory to determine the effective time of the heat advisory and the affected counties. If CenterPoint Houston personnel determined that the heat advisory applied to a county in CenterPoint Houston's service area, the personnel manually set a system flag to stop completion of DNP requests received from REPs. Once the flag was set, CenterPoint Houston's system subsequently rejected DNP requests received from REPs.
The settlement states, "Because the process for receiving and reviewing a heat advisory and setting the system flag was a manual one, it was possible for a gap period to exist between the effective time of the heat advisory and the time the flag was set in CenterPoint Houston's system, particularly when the NWS issued a heat advisory with immediate effect rather than for a specified time in the future."
The settlement states, "In 2018 and 2019, the NWS issued 12 heat advisories that initiated weather moratoriums in CenterPoint Houston's service area. Four of the heat advisories were issued mid-day by the NWS for immediate effect: June 29,2018; August 165 2018; August 20, 2018; and July 8,2019."
"During the 12 weather moratoriums, CenterPoint Houston received 17,273 DNP requests from REPs and stopped completion of 16,171 (or 94%) of those requests. During 8 of the weather moratoriums CenterPoint Houston rejected all DNP requests received after the effective time of the heat advisory. During 4 of the weather moratoriums, CenterPoint Houston completed 1,102 DNP requests during the gap period after the effective time of the heat advisory and before the flag was manually set in CenterPoint Houston's system. The heat advisories initiating these 4 weather moratoriums were all issued mid-day by the NWS for immediate effect," the settlement states
Of the 1,102 DNP requests received from REPs that were completed, CenterPoint Houston reconnected 917 customers on the same day that they were disconnected in response to reconnection requests received from REPs. All customers were ultimately reconnected.
Commission Staff asserts that CenterPoint Houston violated Section 188.8.131.52 of its Tariff because it completed 1,102 DNP requests received from REPs during weather moratoriums in 2018 and 2019.
In 2020, CenterPoint Houston made improvements to its systems and processes used to stop completion of DNP requests received from REPs during a weather moratorium. CenterPoint Houston made arrangements with its weather contractor to provide enhanced weather forecasting and weather alert information to CenterPoint Houston personnel responsible for stopping completion of DNP requests received from REPs during a weather moratorium. CenterPoint Houston established a machine-to-machine connection with its weather contractor so that the flag in CenterPoint Houston's system that stops completion of DNP requests received from REPs during a weather moratorium is now set automatically in response to a communication from the weather contractor. CenterPoint Houston implemented an automated process that will reconnect any customers that are inadvertently disconnected due to a DNP request being received from a REP or in process after the effective time of the heat advisory but before the flag is set (i.e., during the gap period). CenterPoint Houston discussed system and process improvements for stopping completion of DNP requests received from REPs during a weather moratorium with other transmission and distribution utilities (TDUs) in ERCOT.
Under the settlement related to the DNPs, CenterPoint Houston will pay an administrative penalty of two hundred thousand dollars ($200,000).
Furthermore, the settlement provides that CenterPoint Houston will donate two hundred thousand dollars ($200,000) to a charitable organization (BakerRipley) for utility bill payment assistance to low-income individuals.
CenterPoint Houston will conduct educational outreach with REPs, TDUs, and other market participants in ERCOT regarding system and process improvements used to stop completion of DNP requests received from REPs during weather moratoriums. CenterPoint Houston will conduct this outreach as soon as possible, but no later than May 1, 2021.