With companies around the world rethinking the way they do business due to the Covid-19 pandemic, also known as coronavirus, utility companies are also re-examining some of their business practices.
Several major utilities have announced they will suspend electric service shut-offs for past-due customers in response to the financial hardships ratepayers might be facing.
Duke Energy and its unit Piedmont Natural Gas said they would end service shut-offs for all home and business accounts in Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina and Tennessee.
“As a part of your community and a provider of essential services, we are here to support you during this uncertain time. Since many of our customers may be facing unusual financial hardship, we are suspending disconnection for nonpayment effective immediately,” according to a joint announcement from the two utilities.
The Illuminating Co., a unit of FirstEnergy, announced on its official Twitter, “We understand that customers may be facing concerns and hardships due to steps underway to help limit the spread of #COVID19. Effective immediately, service shutoffs for past-due customers are discontinued.”
Other FirstEnergy units, including Toledo Edison, Penn Power, PECO, Metropolitan Edison, JCP&L, Mon Power and others, made an identical announcement.
Helen Gym, a Philadelphia city council member thanked PECO for agreeing to temporarily end shut-offs.
“This is such an important step towards a response that centers the needs of our most vulnerable neighbors,” Gym posted to Twitter.
Austin Energy announced via Twitter that it would suspend shut-offs, and also used the opportunity to outline some of the community-owned utility’s programs for low-income customers.
“As part of Austin Energy’s commitment to be Customer Driven and Community Focused, we’re making sure we take care of our community during this Covid-19 outbreak. We are currently suspending both residential and commercial disconnects,” according to the utility’s Twitter.
The Sacramento Municipal Utility District said that while customers will still need to pay their bills, no one’s electricity would be shut off during the Covid-19 outbreak.
“SMUD suspends power shutoffs for non-payment. We want to ensure power for our most vulnerable customers because of the impact that Covid-19 is having on our local communities. Customers will still owe payment for service,” according to SMUD’s Twitter.
Even in times without a pandemic disrupting peoples’ lives and business, electric utilities’ nonpayment shut-off policies are not uncontroversial.
In Arizona last June, that state’s corporation commission declared a moratorium on utility shut-offs following the death of a 72-year-old Arizona Public Service Co. customer whose power was cut because she had late payments.
APS decided to reconnect the power of 171 customers, according to azcentral.com, following the woman’s death, and voluntarily stop its shut-off policy.
However in October 2019, Arizona’s moratorium on shut-offs expired, once again allowing utilities to cut off electricity to customers for late bill payments.
Late payments can run into the millions of dollars. APS, which provides power to more than a million customers, has about 88,000 people who are late on more than $30 million in utility bills total, according to azcentral.com.