By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — Utility consumers at risk of having their service disconnected for non-payment will have an opportunity to voice their concerns about ending the moratorium July 15.
The state Consumer Advocate petitioned the Public Utilities Commission to establish emergency rules after an agreement negotiated in private between the Governor’s Office, regulators and utilities was announced last month.
The agreement was not as favorable to ratepayers as proposed by Consumer Advocate, Donald Kreis and the other advocates.
“That’s a ratepayer victory as far as I am concerned.,” Kreis said. “I hope ratepayers turn out in droves to explain why it would be unconscionable, in a pandemic-induced economic depression, to allow utilities to disconnect people and resume collections efforts.”
An emergency order issued by Gov. Chris Sununu on March 17 established a moratorium on disconnections during the coronavirus pandemic but was rescinded June 30.
The order allowed a six-month period for customers to pay what they owe without charges once the emergency declaration ended. The emergency declaration is still in effect.
The new emergency order issued June 30, ends the moratorium July 15 and disconnection orders could begin Sept. 16 for residential customers without a 12-month arrangement to pay what is owed. No charges would apply until after Oct. 1.
Disconnection notices to commercial customers could begin Aug. 15 and charges would not apply until Sept. 1.
The PUC denied Kreis’s petition for emergency rules saying it is premature but agreed to hold a remote public hearing Tuesday.
“We applaud the efforts of the rate-regulated utilities, NHEC, and the Consumer Division to reach an agreement that would provide uniformity and consistency to ratepayers during this time,” commissioners wrote. “We also, however, appreciate the timing, the importance of the issue, and the desire of others to be heard.”
In the order, it said the commission will hear concerns raised by ratepayers, Kreis and other advocates regarding “rate-regulated utilities” and NHEC’s collection activities, payment plans, late fees, and customer disconnections, and the utilities and NHEC may respond to those comments and arguments.”
Immediately following the public hearing, a meeting among the rate-regulated utilities, consumer advocate, commission staff, and other interested to discuss the situation.
If the commission decides another option should be pursued, it writes, it will issue another order.
The public hearing will be held at 1:30 p.m. July 14 and may be accessed at https://www.puc.nh.gov/Regulatory/Calendar-Remote.html.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.