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 seven 7 percent of the customer's monthly income plus one-twelfth of any arrearage accrued.
Prohibited Termination of Utility Service During Excessive Heat. An 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 that 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 whether 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.
A residential user whose electric or water utility service has been disconnected at their dwelling for lack of payment may request that the utility or landlord reconnect service on any day a heat-related alert has been issued where their address is located. Upon a request to reconnect services, 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 that the NWS issued, or announced that 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 that it intended to issue, a heat-related alert.
Winter Low-Income Payment Programs. PUD and IOU repayment plans for prohibited utility shutoffs during November 15 through March 15 must be no more than 6 percent, rather than 7 percent, of household income.
The committee recommended a different version of the bill than what was heard. PRO: In the past two summers, extreme heat has caused hundreds of deaths and thousands more seeking medical attention. Many of those deaths were for people 65 years or older. This bill is ultimately about saving lives and reducing stress on our first responders and health care system. This bill does not change how electric utilities are overseen or governed or require them to provide free services. It ensures people have access to utility service even when they cannot pay and is narrowly focused on disconnections for nonpayment. Having clean water and energy is critical during extreme weather conditions. We must prepare for the negative health impacts of extreme heat and other weather conditions. Many states have prohibit shutoffs when it is cold. The bill establishes a statewide policy that provides the same level of safety regardless of provider. The data reporting is an important factor of this legislation. For utilities to contact customers regarding payments and notice of shut offs, the current standard is contact via mail due to a high volume of scammers posing as the utility companies. Instead, add language to the final shut-off notice stating that if the weather is predicted to exceed required temperatures, the customers should contact the utility to be reconnected. The current practice in winter months to reconnect customers who request it is a feasible model.
CON: There is an operational burden and expense for utility disconnect and reconnects which are managed by billing personnel. This may require utilities to be forced to dispatch personnel twice for each occurrence, on and off. The reliance on daily forecasts as presented would require billing associates to be paid overtime to monitor forecasts that may occur beyond business hours. There is no precedent for mandatory reconnection of disconnected customers who don't pay their bills. Washington would become an outlier if we follow through with the reconnection mandate. During extreme heat events, utilities may have to make the choice between operations on wildfire mitigation and electricity shutoffs due to limited staffing resources. One temperature fits all approach doesn't apply to the diverse terrain and climate of Washington.
OTHER: As regulator, the UTC is best positioned to regulate the investor on utilities with these policies and to work out the details. The bill as proposed contains prescriptive requirements that are unnecessary and do not take into account the unique characteristics of each utility service area. The 90 degree temperature mark will not fit for all regions in the state. Instead of a flat temperature, use of the national weather service heat advisory. Considering a heat index would take into consideration a number of different variables including humidity, regionality, and how low or high the temperature was the previous night. Reconnection of water service could cause significant property damage. Thus the customer should have to opt back into services. With limited staff, reconnection is a significant burden. Regional utilities serve multiple counties and customers. Public health services should have state assistance to pay for these things. There should be a statewide determination or directive to give indication to utilities for shut off and reconnection.