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Nearly 60 General Assembly Members, AG Mark Herring, Appalachian Voices, Enviro Groups Call for Extension and/or Expansion of Utility Disconnection Moratorium During COVID-19 Crisis

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See below for press releases from Del. Jay Jones’ office, from Attorney General Mark Herring, and from Appalachian Voices, calling for extensions and/or expansions of the utility disconnection moratorium during the COVID-19 pandemic. I couldn’t agree more.

Nearly 60 General Assembly Members Call for Extension of Utility Disconnection Moratorium, Commit to Legislative Action

Democrats and Republicans unite behind customer protection and utility transparency amidst pandemic 

June 5, 2020

Richmond — A bipartisan group of 58 members of the General Assembly requested the Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) extend its mandatory moratorium on utility disconnections during the COVID-19 pandemic through the end of August to allow time for legislative action on the crisis. In a comment filed today, the Delegates and State Senators also requested that the SCC obtain more information from regulated public utilities on how many Virginians have been unable to pay their utility bills and its fiscal impact on those utilities. The SCC’s state order for the current moratorium is set to expire on June 15, 2020.

[Read Legislator Comment to SCC]

“Virginia families are facing a historic economic and health crisis. Families should not also have to face the fear of having their utilities shut off during the coronavirus pandemic. We need to protect Virginians from sudden shut-offs this summer, and we need greater transparency to enable legislative action and new policies to protect working families in this difficult economic situation,” said Senator Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond).

Legislators requested that the SCC require every public utility to file the following information with the Commission on a weekly basis:

  • The number of residential and non-residential customer accounts of each utility currently in arrearage, as compared to historical averages;
  • Aggregated data on how many of those customers are Low-income,  Disabled, Elderly, Veterans, or Residents of historically economically disadvantaged communities.
  • The number of residential and non-residential accounts disconnected in the current year and not reconnected;
  • The total current arrearage balance of each utility, as compared to historical averages;
  • Information regarding each utility’s revenue and earnings history;
  • Information regarding each utility’s financial strength and debt service reserves;
  • The magnitude of late fees and penalties that would have been charged absent the moratorium; and
  • Any other data the Commission may deem relevant.

“The pandemic lockdown’s side effects mount daily.  The current moratorium on utility disconnections is the right policy, but its indefinite extension could end up hurting other customers. As lawmakers, we need solid information to make informed decisions and protect ratepayers, and all affected by this policy,” said Delegate Lee Ware (R-Powhatan).

“No family or small business should have their power shut off during an unprecedented global crisis that disproportionately impacts black and brown Virginians,” said Delegate Jay Jones (D-Norfolk). “Extending the utility disconnection moratorium is a necessary first step. Next, the General Assembly desperately needs utility monopoly reform to protect customers from being taken advantage of by a broken and unjust system.”

Signees:

Sen. John Bell
Sen. Jennifer Boysko
Sen. Creigh Deeds
Sen. Adam Ebbin
Sen. John Edwards
Sen. Barbara Favola
Sen. Ghazala Hashmi
Sen. Louise Lucas
Sen. Dave Marsden
Sen. Monty Mason
Sen. Jennifer McClellan
Sen. Joe Morrisey
Sen. Chap Peterson
Sen. Lionell Spruill
Del. Dawn Adams
Del. Lashresce Aird
Del. Alex Askew
Del. Terry Austin
Del. Hala Ayala
Del. Jeff Bourne
Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy
Del. Josh Cole
Del. Kelly Convirs-Fowler
Del. Carrie Coyner
Del. Wendy Gooditis
Del. Nancy Guy
Del. Elizabeth Guzman
Del. Dan Helmer
Del. Patrick Hope
Del. Chris Hurst
Del. Clinton Jenkins
Del. Jay Jones
Del. Mark Keam
Del. Kaye Kory
Del. Paul Krizek
Del. Mark Levine
Del. Alfonso Lopez
Del. Delores McQuinn
Del. Martha Mugler
Del. Mike Mullin
Del. Ken Plum
Del. Sam Rasoul
Del. David Reid
Del. Danica Roem
Del. Ibraheem Samirah
Del. Mark Sickles
Del. Marcus Simon
Del. Shelly Simonds
Del. Suhas Subramanyam
Del. Luke Torian
Del. Kathy Tran
Del. Roslyn Tyler
Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg
Del. Vivian Watts
Del. Lee Ware
Del. Michael Webert
Del. Rodney Willett
Del. Tony Wilt

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ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING AGAIN REQUESTS EXTENSION ON UTILITY DISCONNECTION SUSPENSIONS
~ Herring’s request is in response to the SCC seeking public comment on the suspension of service disconnections ~
RICHMOND (June 5, 2020) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring today has requested that the State Corporation Commission (SCC) extend its suspension on utility disconnections beyond the current end date of June 15th. In his filing with the SCC, Attorney General Herring notes that Governor Northam has extended his state of emergency indefinitely and explains that “the existing moratorium should be extended to a point in the future after Virginia’s economy has had an opportunity to resume, allowing impacted citizens an opportunity to regain some financial footing”.

“We are still in the middle of a deadly pandemic and a state of emergency where we continue to ask Virginians to stay home as much as possible to prevent further spread of COVID-19,” said Attorney General Herring. “Unfortunately, as a result of business closures and layoffs due to social distancing measures, we have seen an unprecedented spike in unemployment in Virginia. Individuals, especially hourly wage earners, are struggling to make ends meet and we must continue to ensure that Virginians have access to heat, water, electricity and other utilities while we navigate our way through this public health emergency and tough financial times.”Attorney General Herring also highlights several ways in which utilities can offset the impact of any COVID-19 related costs to consumers including:

  • Implementing emergency rate reductions
  • Sharing the financial burden with shareholders of any investor-owned utilities
  • The possibility of federally funded government loan programs for some utilities
  • The SCC tracking of COVID-19 related cost savings to the cost of service

In response to Attorney General Herring’s request, the SCC extended their freeze on disconnections through at least June 10th when the state of emergency was currently scheduled to end. The SCC initially halted utility disconnections for non-payment in March following Attorney General Herring’s emergency petition requesting the freeze.

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State regulators should expand utility disconnection ban during Covid-19 crisis

Charlottesville, VA. — Appalachian Voices sent a letter today to the Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) urging the commissioners to extend and strengthen the existing moratorium on water, gas and electric utility disconnections and late payment fees to protect families who are suffering economic hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic. The SCC originally established the moratorium beginning March 16 and it is set to expire June 15. The group’s filing included the names of more than 120 Virginian supporters who had signed a petition urging a moratorium expansion.

Allowing the moratorium to end June 15 while the health and economic crises continue to grow would put hundreds of thousands of Virginians at risk of losing electricity, water and other critical services. Furthermore, the Covid-19 crisis exacerbates underlying problems faced by households struggling to afford their utility bills prior to the pandemic. According to the Virginia Department of Social Services, nearly 450,000 low-income households in Virginia qualified for state energy assistance programs as recently as 2019.

“Thanks to the original moratorium, hundreds of thousands of households have been spared from losing electricity or water because they couldn’t pay their bills,” said Peter Anderson, Virginia Senior Program Manager for Appalachian Voices. “But these household debts are growing, and families will be devastated if their utility bills become due too soon. We appreciate the Commission’s quick action to protect customers by implementing the original moratorium, but we believe that an extension to that order is necessary to secure the necessary protections for our most vulnerable.”

The SCC had specifically requested public feedback on the moratorium expiration. In its comments filed today, Appalachian Voices requests that the SCC extend the moratorium for at least 120 days. Dominion Energy earlier this week volunteered to extend the shutoff moratorium for its customers for 120 days. Appalachian Voices urges the SCC to strengthen protections for Virginians by making the shutoff moratorium mandatory for all utilities, including rural electric cooperatives.

The group also calls on the SCC to:

  • Require utilities to offer repayment agreements spanning a minimum of 12 months following the end of the moratorium, and ensure that all customers in arrears whenever the shutoff moratorium expires are eligible for these repayment plans;
  • Place additional restrictions on disconnections and fees imposed for violations of those repayment agreements, as well as restrictions on other harmful collections practices; and
  • Require additional data reporting by utilities in order to better gauge the statewide impact and inform future policy decisions.

Appalachian Voices also recommends that existing sources of funding, including the federal CARES Act and the Paycheck Protection Program, be directed towards the state’s smaller utilities as they work to maintain financial stability.

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From Clean Virginia:

SCC Must Extend Moratorium on Utility Disconnections; Legislative Action Next Step

Environmental groups unite behind call for extension and data release from utilities

June 5, 2020

Charlottesville — Eleven environmental and marginalized community advocacy organizations today joined statewide calls for the Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) to extend its moratorium on utility disconnections during the COVID-19 pandemic. A joint comment submitted by the organizations questions the SCC’s assumption that a moratorium extension will harm ratepayers given the lack of available and relevant data from regulated public utilities including how many Virginia customers have unpaid utility bills, the reserves of each utility, and the amount utilities have overcharged customers in previous years.

The comment includes:

  • A request for the SCC to extend the mandatory moratorium on utility service disconnections until at least the end of the summer.
  • A request for the SCC to obtain weekly data from all regulated public utilities including how many customers have unpaid utility bills, the number of customers disconnected in the current year, and information regarding the financial strength and debt reserves of each utility.
  • A request for the SCC to solicit proposals from all affected utilities on steps those utilities can take to restart their energy efficiency programs or develop alternative programs that reduce consumption while protecting the health of all involved.

Virginia’s largest electricity provider Dominion Energy has declined to comment on how many residential and non-residential customers have unpaid bills or were disconnected in the current year. Dominion has overcharged its customers by $1.3 billion since 2015.

The SCC’s state order suspending disconnections is set to expire on June 15, 2020. Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Clean Virginia, Climate Action Alliance of the Valley, League of Conservation Voters Virginia, New Virginia Majority, Piedmont Environmental Council, Rappahannock League for Environmental Protection, Sierra Club Virginia Chapter, Southern Environmental Law Center, Virginia Conservation Network, and Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy signed the joint comment to the SCC, due today.

READ the joint comment to the SCC.

Quotes From Participating Organizations:

Harrison Wallace, Chesapeake Climate Action Network – Virginia Director

“It’s the SCC’s job to protect consumers, not corporations. But Dominion is planning to give their shareholders fat dividends during a time of economic turmoil and also planning to give out targeted grants in the name of justice. If they can do that, they can help struggling families keep the lights on and cool their homes during the hottest season of the year.”

Brennan Gilmore, Clean Virginia – Executive Director

“Families should not face electricity disconnection while Dominion Energy unjustly transfers hundreds of millions in overcharges every year from Virginians to its top executives and shareholders. The State Corporation Commission should provide relief to struggling Virginia families and small businesses by extending the moratorium on utility disconnections and demanding transparency from utilities to better understand the scope of the problem.”

Jo Anne St. Clair, Climate Action Alliance of the Valley – Chair

“The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley believes that the SCC must be mindful that calamities like the current pandemic, and like the consequences of our ongoing climate crisis, usually burden those who are least able to adapt and recover quickly. The pandemic is not over; its negative economic effects will be with us all, especially the many Virginians who chronically have a serious burden meeting their utility bills. The SCC must consider this reality.”

Michael Town, League of Conservation Voters Virginia – Executive Director

“We should not be debating whether or not to extend a moratorium on utility shut-offs in the midst of a global pandemic and economic depression that is especially devastating for low-income neighborhoods and communities of color,” said Michael Town, executive director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters. “The moratorium should remain in place until the pandemic is over and Virginia is able to implement just and fair utility reform to ensure our most vulnerable citizens are never put in this position again.”

Kenneth Gilliam, New Virginia Majority – Policy Director

“We are very much still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had greater economic and health effects, likely to be long-lasting, on low-income households and Latinx and Black communities in Virginia. The economic repercussions of the crisis are not equally distributed by race or income across the state; however, measures, such as the moratorium on utility disconnections, provides much needed fiscal relief to low-income customers who generally pay more for energy and are predicted to have greater loss of income throughout the rest of 2020, and well into 2021.”

Kate AddlesonSierra Club Virginia Chapter – Director

“The COVID 19 pandemic has thrown Virginia into a serious economic downturn with many families across the commonwealth facing job loss and financial strain. With Virginia’s hottest months still ahead of us, the SCC must extend the moratorium on utility shut-offs at least through the summer to ensure families and businesses aren’t subject to life-threatening heat. The commission should take steps to offer utility bill assistance and extended repayment programs during this difficult time.”

Will Cleveland, Southern Environmental Law Center – Senior Attorney 

With the summer heat bearing down on us, we must do all we can to help people who, as a result of this pandemic, struggle to pay their utility bills. Expanded utility-sponsored energy efficiency programs, bill assistance and payment plans, and data collection are necessary to help all Virginians come through this difficult time.”