- More than 100 members of Congress, including 15 senators, are pressing the House and Senate leadership to include language in the next COVID-19 funding package prohibiting utilities from disconnecting customers who may not be able to pay their bills now or immediately after the crisis that has closed businesses and thrown millions out of work.
- The unusual lobbying effort by lawmakers came Wednesday in a letter to House and Senate leadership calling for the creation of a "national policy with clear standards that utilities can follow … [to] provide support for [utility] operations as well as customers ... in light of declining utility revenues caused by unemployment, small business shutdowns, and rising poverty."
- The issue of utility customer shutoffs and expectations that plummeting utility revenues will lead to greater problems is also the focus of a white paper that Wilkinson Barker Knauer, LLP, a national communications and technology law firm, is issuing today to help state utility regulators deal with what could become an even deeper crisis, as most utilities have fixed costs that will continue even as their revenues decline.
These parallel efforts to protect consumers and businesses from shutoffs highlight the importance of utility infrastructure and the threat their financial disintegration would pose. The urgency of the letter to congressional leadership follows an effort initiated earlier this month by 830 labor, environmental, faith and civil-rights groups aimed at convincing lawmakers to include a national moratorium on utility disconnections in the next coronavirus aid bill.
Meanwhile, the white paper from the law firm WBK notes that utility regulation is largely a state issue, and that most states have already declared a moratorium on utility shutoffs. The law firm offers a tentative regulatory agenda to help state regulators continue to protect customers from shutoffs while at the same time focusing on helping utilities recover their losses at a later date.
"If a large share of customers is unable to pay bills over the coming months, utilities may run into financing issues, which could lead to cascading problems and undercut the utilities' ability to serve all customers," the white paper stated.
Policies to protect customers during the crisis must include the "expectation and assumption that any costs of the policy will ultimately be recovered from all customers," according to the white paper.