Chesterton Tribune



Consumer Counselor seeks utility ratepayer protections during pandemic

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As Hoosiers continue to face unprecedented health and financial hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor (OUCC)--the state’s consumer advocate--is calling for short- and long-term ratepayer protections.

Specifically, the OUCC is asking the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) to open a formal investigation into how utilities will deal with present and future overdue utility accounts, along with the impacts of COVID-19 on utility rates and services statewide.

All disconnections by Indiana utilities are currently suspended through June 4, per Gov. Eric Holcomb’s executive orders. Without the suspension, utilities could enforce disconnections. Utilities also have broad discretion for setting payment plan parameters. “No uniform protections are in place for likely arrearages that may yet develop during the pandemic,” the OUCC said.

The OUCC is accordingly requesting a two-phase approach to the proposed investigation. In Phase I, it’s asking the OUCC to order all jurisdictional utilities to do the following:

-- Extend the suspension of disconnections for an appropriate timeframe beyond June 4.

-- Waive all deposits, late fees, convenience fees, and reconnection fees.

-- Expand the use of payment arrangements to assist customers.

-- And immediately start documenting and accounting for assets and liabilities related to stayed disconnections, waived fees, and extended payment plans.

“The full impact of the pandemic’s economic consequences will slowly emerge throughout the months ahead,” Indiana Utility Consumer Counselor Bill Fine said. “This extraordinary and unprecedented situation calls for new protections to ensure that all Hoosiers have access to essential services, especially consumers who are suffering loss of income through no fault of their own.”

Phase II of the investigation would focus on longer-term issues related to COVID-19. Among other things, the issues would include consideration of an appropriate methodology to review the reasonableness, necessity, and prudency of any COVID-19-related cost recovery requests in future rate cases.

The IURC has jurisdiction over most Indiana investor-owned electric, natural gas, and water/wastewater utlities along with certain municipal and not-for-profit utilities.

The IURC does not have jurisdiction over municipal sewer utilities, telecommunications companies, or broadband service providers. In its petition, the OUCC encourages non-jurisdictional utilities to similarly suspend disconnections, waive certain fees, and expand customer payment arrangements.


Posted 5/12/2020




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