Daniel Tait, Energy Alabama
Bri Knisley, Appalachian Voices
More than a dozen organizations in Tennessee and Alabama have called on the Tennessee Valley Public Power Association (TVPPA) to urge its member utilities to immediately halt service disconnection and late fees for families during the coronavirus pandemic. In a letter to the association last Friday, 15 organizations said: “In accordance with the principles of public power, TVPPA members have a duty to protect customers by suspending disconnections and waiving late fees during a national crisis, and to reinstate service to those who have recently had their power disconnected.”
TVPPA’s members include the electric cooperatives and municipal electric utilities who serve 9 million people across seven states in the Tennessee Valley Authority’s service area. In the letter, the groups identified five of TVPPA’s large utilities that had taken these kinds of actions to protect their customers, adding that many TVPPA members may still be charging customers late fees and cutting off service for non-payment.
“Loving our neighbor in this moment is ensuring that our neighbors have access to basic utilities,” said Reverend Michael Malcom, Executive Director of Alabama Interfaith Power and Light. “We call on TVPPA to recommend measures that ensure all citizens in the TVA footprint will have access to power throughout this crisis.”
TVA has authorized deferred wholesale power payments in its service area, according to the groups’ letter, and increased federal funding to help low-income households with energy bills was included in the recent federal stimulus package. TVPPA members should not cut off service or add late fees onto the bills of families who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in dire economic straits for the foreseeable future.
A website tracking how different electric cooperatives and municipal utilities are responding was developed by Appalachian Voices. The Energy and Policy Institute is also compiling a national dataset of utilities’ responses around the U.S.
In an email response from TVPPA, the signers were told that the association could not take action to recommend shutoff moratoriums without intruding on the “local control” of public utilities.
“Unfortunately, while some investor-owned utility associations have already implemented no-shutoff policies system wide, many of TVPPA’s members have yet to adopt these protections for residents,” said Appalachian Voices Tennessee Campaign Coordinator, Bri Knisley. “Our public power utilities should be at the forefront of this effort, rather than waiting for government mandates. We need groups like TVPPA to recognize the crucial need for leadership in this critical time.”
Groups signed by March 27:
Mid-South Regional Chapter
Power and Light
Groups signed on subsequently: