Press Release

Research reveals gaps in Virginia’s utility shutoff policies

Virginia one of seven states lacking critical protections from shutoff for low-income households

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 14, 2022

CONTACT
Emily Piontek, (314) 562-2341, emily@appvoices.org

Charlottesville, Va. — Today, Appalachian Voices released a white paper on the state of utility shutoff policies in Virginia. Policies to govern water, gas and electric utility shutoffs during extreme weather conditions, including high- and- low temperatures, are not codified in state law, leaving financially-strapped households vulnerable to losing these essential services in risky conditions. Meanwhile, utility bills in Virginia are among the highest in the U.S., ranking tenth in 2021.

The white paper, “Pressing pause on utility shutoffs: How Virginia could save lives by establishing shutoff policies for high-risk periods,” compares the gaps in Virginia utility regulation to best practices that are acknowledged by the industry, public health professionals, and other state legislatures and regulatory bodies. For example, 21 states have codified extreme weather shutoff policies and 33 states have codified date-based shutoff policies for electric utilities, while 43 states prohibit both gas and electric utilities from making shutoffs in cold weather. Virginia has no such policies for shutoffs, and provides only a much more limited and outdated disconnection delay for customers with medical conditions who are facing a utility shutoff.

Of immediate concern for Virginians is how a forecast of higher residential heating costs this winter will impact low-income and other socially vulnerable households’ ability to pay. The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts gas prices will rise by 28% and electricity prices by 10% over the next several months. Of longer-term concern is the threat to well-being such customers will experience if facing utility shutoffs in very hot weather, which is projected to increase due to climate change.

Appalachian Voices calls for state legislators and utility regulators to implement the following best practices:

  • Prohibitions on shutoffs for nonpayment during public health crises and during weather extremes, including high and low temperatures;
  • An updated shutoff exemption for medically vulnerable customers, including infants and seniors, that is made applicable to all utilities regardless of service area;
  • Limits on shutoff fees, reconnection fees, late fees or interest charges for unpaid bills and a prohibition on requirements that bills are paid in full as a condition for reconnection; and
  • Regularly reported and publicly available data on shutoffs made or avoided.

These policy gaps — and legislative efforts to address them — will be discussed in more detail during a webinar on Wednesday, Nov. 16, at 6 p.m.

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Appalachian Voices is a leading nonprofit advocate for a healthy environment and just economy in the Appalachian region, and a driving force in America’s shift from fossil fuels to a clean energy future.


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