Press Release

Va should expand utility shutoff ban during Covid-19 crisis

CONTACT:

Peter Anderson, Senior Program Manager Virginia, 434-293-6373, peter@appvoices.org

Rory McIlmoil, Senior Energy Analyst, 828-262-1500, rory@appvoices.org

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 its 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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