For the last three months, the West Virginia Public Service Commission has urged utilities not to shut off service to people who have missed payments.
Unlike in some states, West Virginia's regulatory agency requested that utilities avoid shutting off service to customers, meaning providers who didn’t adhere to the order aren’t going to face consequences.
Utilities are still obliged to follow normal regulations for terminations of services to customers.
After July 1, the PSC said it wants utilities who did suspend shutoffs to restart the process of terminating services for customers who have fallen behind on payments.
Cash Flow Problems
Most public utilities rely solely on the payments they receive from customers, and the PSC said the coronavirus pandemic has created a cash flow problem for providers too.
In an order on May 15, the PSC asked utilities to track their pandemic-related expenses and report them back to commissioners. The information might result in higher utility payments for customers when the PSC determines monthly rates for next year.
Normally, when public utility customers are behind on their payments, those facing economic difficulties can apply for assistance through the Low Income Energy Assistance Program, or they can apply for a grant for their missed payments through philanthropic organizations like the Pennsylvania-based Dollar Energy, which offers grants funded by utility companies and individual donations.
Dollar Energy offers differing grant amounts to low income households serviced by seven utilities in West Virginia.
The organization reported Tuesday that because utilities aren’t threatening to shut down services, they haven’t seen any more applicants than they normally do this time of year.
Customers will owe back payments to their utilities for the services received for the last few months, but the PSC stated in an order last Wednesday that utilities shouldn’t charge late fees for missed payments.
The regulatory agency also asked that utilities work with customers who might need a deferred payment plan, who can’t make accumulated payments.
They distributed grants to 199 households in March, 48 in April, 65 in May and 53 in June as of Tuesday morning.
Emily Allen is a Report for America corps member.