Utility moratorium extended until July 31 for electric, natural gas

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Electric and natural gas customers struggling to pay their bills due to the economic impacts of the pandemic have until July 31 before worrying disconnections will restart.

On February 23, the state Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) extended protections for electric and natural gas customers until July 31, according to a media release. This order only includes privately held utilities, not publicly held water and sewer districts.

Governor Jay Inslee issued an order last April that prevented energy, water and telecommunication companies from disconnecting customers for nonpayment that was slated to expire April 30.

The state has five investor-owned utilities: Puget Sound Energy, PacifiCorp, Avista, Northwest Natural Gas and Cascade Natural Gas. UTC, the state regulatory agency, will also continue to waive late fees and deposits through January 27, 2022, according to the release.

As of December, almost 277,000 residential electric and natural gas customers across the state have past due balances totaling $79.1 million, which was a 65 percent increase from 2019.

During 2020, investor-owned utilities dispersed assistance funds to more than 91,000 – a 31 percent increase from 2019 – low-income customers and customers who lost income due to the pandemic.

To aid struggling customers, the commission also required utilities to set up new assistance programs specifically for those unable to pay because of the impacts of the pandemic. Customers who need help should reach out to their companies to ask about these programs and for other payment plan options.

The UTC will hold a meeting in May to review utility preparedness to serve low-income customers and impacts of the pandemic.

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