Winter Low-Income Payment Programs. Certain electric utilities, including investor-owned utilities (IOUs), public utility districts (PUDs), and city-owned utilities, are prohibited from terminating residential space heating utility service between November 15 through March 15 if the customer meets certain requirements.
To be eligible for the protections under the law, the customer must notify the utility of the inability to pay for utility services, provide self-certification of household income to the Department of Commerce (Commerce), apply for home heating assistance, apply for low-income weatherization assistance, and agree to a payment plan. The payment plan must be designed to pay the past due bill and continued utility service. The utility may not require payment of more than 7 percent of the customer's monthly income plus one-twelfth of any arrearage accrued.
Prohibited Termination of Utility Service During Excessive Heat. A consumer-owned electric or water utility or landlord may not involuntarily terminate utility service due to lack of payment to any residential user on any day when the National Weather Service (NWS) has issued or has announced it intends to issue a heat-related alert, such as an excessive heat warning, a heat advisory, an excessive heat watch, or a similar alert, for the area where the residential user's address is located.
An IOU must have and must abide by the terms of a tariff approved by the Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) that prohibits the IOU from involuntarily terminating utility service due to lack of payment to any residential user on any day when NWS has issued or has announced it intends to issue a heat-related alert, for the area where the residential user's address is located.
An electric or water utility, or landlord must inform all customers in the notice of disconnection how to seek reconnection, and provide clear and specific information on how to make that request, including how to contact the utility or landlord. An IOU, through a UTC approved process, must inform all customers in the notice of disconnection how to seek reconnection.
A residential user whose electric or water utility service has been disconnected at their dwelling for lack of payment may request the utility or landlord to reconnect service on any day a heat-related alert has been issued where their address is located. Upon such a request, a utility or landlord must promptly make a reasonable attempt to reconnect service to the dwelling.
When receiving a request to reconnect service for a heat-related alert, electric and water utilities and landlords may require the residential user to enter into a payment plan prior to reconnecting service to the dwelling. If a repayment plan is required, it must:
Reporting. Annually, each consumer-owned utility (COU) with more than 25,000 electric customers or 2500 water customers in Washington must submit a report to Commerce that includes the total number of disconnections that occurred on each day the NWS issued, or announced it intended to issue, a heat-related alert.
COUs with less than 25,000 electric customers or 2500 water customers must provide similar information if it is requested by Commerce. Any other information requested by Commerce must be provided by all COUs, subject to availability. Required information must be submitted in a form, timeline, and manner prescribed by Commerce.
Annually, each IOU must submit a report to the Utilities and Transportation Commission that includes the total number of disconnections that occurred on each day the NWS issued, or announced it intended to issue, a heat-related alert.
PRO: Climate change will continue to cause longer, hotter, volatile summers across Washington. Extreme weather causes deaths and thousands seek medical attention. The bill grapples with extreme heat across a diverse set of utilities and we recognize these are not free services, but the bill strikes a strong balance. The bill ensures people will remain connected even when they cannot pay and is critical for keeping people healthy and safe in their homes. We support equitable access to energy for all people in times of crisis. It is essential to protect that access for those most at risk from being disconnected. Soaring temps make outdoor and indoor life more challenging for vulnerable people. A high heat moratorium fits into a larger picture of an equitable system for Washingtonians to access resources for their home life. The bill is an implementable policy that will protect rate payers. Some utilities already have policies to avoid disconnects during high heat. We would like to see refinement on which heat related events trigger the bill, because we think there are four. The standard should be more similar to the winter moratorium. We support the policy goal. We urge utilities to inform customers of this right. This takes a step forward for equity. Access to reliable electricity is basic human need. Low income and BIPOC communities are most likely to experience disconnections. We would like to see a seasonal moratorium and the bill prohibits all shut offs between June 1st and August 31st. Put this policy in place for customers who already qualify for the winter moratorium. The reporting requirements are reasonable, necessary for greater transparency, and should be retained. The repayment program is reasonable and should be retained. Trust the weatherman.
OTHER: The bill would only require minor adjustments to a tariff. The bill needs some more work but is on the right track. The bill should require a repayment plan for reconnection. Other customers should not be left holding the bill for those who don't pay. We have concerns about 6% monthly income repayment cap. Agencies are unequipped to provide income checks. Apply a cap to low income households only. In the end, it is the utility that must implement the bill. Provide rate payer assistance on top of utility funded weatherization or conservation programs. Line persons are highly sought after and difficult to find and hiring during a heat event is unlikely. Rules limit how long line persons can work. We are supportive of many of the changes but would like to streamline the triggers for the disconnect process. It is administratively feasible to replace the current prescriptive provisions to direct customers to bill payer assistance programs. Require data to be available on request instead of annually. Energy burdened households are more vulnerable to being disconnected. Commerce has no concerns with compiling data from utilities. Some smaller utilities have less staff in the office, not as many crews to go out, and cover larger service areas. It is difficult to maintain reliability of the grid. We need to clarify what are the heat notices that truly reflect danger to human health. Can we get these notices directed to staff so they don't have to search for the notice? The FEMA app has a push system notification and would ease tracking requirements for utilities and customers who want to know their rights. An income-level verification process will actually delay the reconnection process. Utilities already do a fantastic job managing low income programs and would like to use community action partnership (CAP) agencies to determine low-income thresholds.