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California Commission Extends Customer Protections, Addresses Energy Arrearages

Feb. 23, 2021
CPUC extends customer protections for residential and small business customers, takes action to address energy utility customer bill debt.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), in its ongoing efforts to ensure continued access to essential utility services during the COVID-19 pandemic, recently extended customer protections for residential and small business customers and took action to address energy utility customer bill debt.

The CPUC's commissioners voted unanimously to extend utility customer protection measures that had been previously adopted, and directed energy, water, and communications companies under CPUC jurisdiction to suspend customer disconnections for non-payments from April 16, 2021, to June 30, 2021. These Emergency Customer Protections were originally adopted in Resolution M-4842 on March 2020, following the March 4, 2020, State of Emergency declaration by Governor Gavin Newsom. Most notably, the utilities must continue to:

  • Retroactively apply the customer protection measures from March 4, 2020, onward.
  • Suspend disconnections of customers who have not paid bills.
  • Create additional bill payment plan options for customers and proactively communicate with customers to enroll or sustain their enrollment in programs to manage their utility bills.

The CPUC's commissioners also voted unanimously to address through a new proceeding (called a Rulemaking) the growing energy arrearages related to the COVID-19 period.

Despite efforts by the CPUC and the utilities to help lower energy bills during the pandemic, many have still struggled to pay their bills. Data presented at a CPUC COVID Impacts on Energy Customers Workshop in November 2020 showed a dramatic increase of customers with unpaid bills totaling more than US$500 and an increase of enrollments in California Alternate Rates for Energy (CARE), a bill discount program for low-income customers.

Updated data presented at the Commission meeting showed almost nine million customers have not been able to pay their electric or gas bills in full. Through this new proceeding, the CPUC will consider ways to provide customers who have struggled to pay their energy bills during this unprecedented time an opportunity to become current on their energy utility bills. It will examine the need for relief tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, with consideration of appropriate parameters, cost estimates, and potential funding sources.

"It is critical we proactively address the large and growing energy bill arrearages that have accrued during the pandemic," said CPUC President Marybel Batjer. "The new arrearages Rulemaking provides us with a venue to be creative in developing and implementing measures that will help ensure relief to customers once the moratorium on customer disconnections for non-payment ends."

Commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves said, "We have also established an Arrearage Management Plan to assist low-income customers, which is available now to provide Californians with yet another tool to get out from under utility debt caused by the COVID-19 pandemic."

“Our decision ensures that utilities will continue to provide the customer protections we previously ordered while the economic impacts of the pandemic linger," said Commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen. "Our new proceeding will put in place debt management programs tailored to these extremely challenging times, with special consideration for the most vulnerable in our communities who may be having trouble paying their energy bill."

For a list of consumer protection provisions utilities are enacting in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, visit here.

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