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PSC Order Allows Utilities to Resume Service Disconnection

CHARLESTON, WV – Public utilities across the State are now allowed to resume the disconnection process for unpaid utilities accrued during the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the June 17th session of the Public Service Commission of West Virginia, the Commission addressed the voluntary suspension of service terminations by West Virginia utilities due to the health threat presented by COVID-19.

On March 13, 2020, the Commission sent an email to all West Virginia public utilities urging a voluntary suspension of service terminations in consideration of the rapidly unfolding events of the novel coronavirus.

At that time, the Commission recognized that state residents were facing a health threat and possible economic disruption, as well as “stay at home” orders from various federal and state government agencies would likely impact customers’ ability to timely pay for their utility services.

As West Virginia has begun the process of rescinding its “stay at home” guidelines, the Commission has received numerous informal inquiries about whether utility service may resume. Some utilities experienced significant cash flow deficiencies, a few requesting relief for COVID-19 expenses.

On May 15th, the Commission issued General Order No. 262.4 containing rate relief mechanisms for use by public utilities suffering economic impacts of COVID-19.

In the Order, the Commission describes the process for resuming service terminations for utilities that suspended terminations in March.

“Because some utilities may have continued to issue termination notices without the intent to terminate, we believe the utilities should “restart” the disconnection process from the beginning for all customers,” said Connie Graley, Executive Secretary of the PSC in a letter sent to public utilities.

To give customers proper notice, the Commission suggested waiting until today, July 1st, 2020, or later to begin the disconnect process. Any notices issued prior to today are considered invalid.

Other guidance suggested that a utility must provide notice to its customers that it is restarting the termination of service process and that utilities should not charge late payments fees for balances accrued during the voluntary termination suspension period.

Also, the Commission termination rules require that utilities negotiate reasonable deferred payment plans with customers who have significant past-due balances. The Commission urges utilities to utilize deferred payments plans in consideration of their customers’ ability to pay during this period, including commercial customers.