Al Ripley, Director
Consumer, Housing and Energy Project
NC Justice Center
Rory McIlmoil, Senior Energy Analyst
RALEIGH — Nearly 30 organizations serving communities across North Carolina sent a letter today commending the NC Utilities Commission for its recent order directing all utilities it regulates to immediately suspend service disconnections and late payment fees for customers. But the letter also urges Governor Roy Cooper to expand protections provided in the order to cover all utilities not regulated by the commission so that every household and business receives the same protection during the coronavirus emergency. This would include rural electric cooperatives, municipal electric utilities, gas, water, telecom companies and internet service providers. The letter was also addressed to key members of his administration, utility regulators and leaders of those utilities.
Across the state, families and businesses are experiencing economic hardship either due to having contracted the coronavirus, protecting against spreading the virus, or having their jobs and businesses shut down because of the response to the crisis. As a result, thousands are already unable to pay for basic services, including electricity, gas and water, and this number will only grow as the virus spreads and the economy declines. Given the higher rate of poverty and lower-household incomes in rural areas and small towns, these communities are likely to feel the economic impact of the crisis more strongly.
A newly launched website tracks the status of policies that electric utilities have enacted. It also provides phone numbers for utilities so people can call to ask for expanded relief.
“In the early days of this crisis we saw major utilities such as Duke Energy and Dominion Energy adopt significant measures to protect consumers from shut-offs and the Utility Commission’s order will make these types of measures standard across all commission-regulated utilities in North Carolina,” said Al Ripley an attorney and Director of the NC Justice Center’s Housing, Consumer and Energy Project.
“There remain, however, a significant number of utilities such as some co-ops and municipal providers that do not have protections in place. In order to protect the public health and the well-being of all people and businesses in North Carolina we need additional mandatory protections,” he said.
The signatories to the letter call for a set of policies that will ensure access for every household and business to critical services, including a complete and open-ended suspension of service disconnections, the immediate and penalty-free reinstatement of services that had recently been discontinued, the suspension of late payment fees, and immediate notification of the new policies to customers through all available means.
The groups note that, prior to the commission’s order, some of the utilities regulated by the commission, such as Duke Energy and Dominion Energy, had put helpful policies in place, and the commission order now sets policies and standards that all commission-regulated utilities will have to follow.
In contrast, a significant number of rural electric cooperatives and municipal electric and water providers have yet to adopt needed policies. The public interest groups call on Governor Cooper to make all four policies mandatory for all utilities operating in the state that are not already under the commission’s order.
“The urgency of this crisis requires that those with the capability to relieve the burden this situation is causing for families and small businesses do everything in their power to achieve that. This includes every single utility and service company operating in North Carolina, not just those that are regulated by the state utility commission,” said Rory McIlmoil, Senior Energy Analyst for Appalachian Voices. “More people are struggling every day and it’s happening everywhere. They can’t wait any longer. We ask the governor to take immediate action to expand the scope and reach of the Commission’s order to include all utilities across the state.”