The Oregon Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has approved rule revisions intended to strengthen protections for low-income energy customers at risk of being disconnected from service due to nonpayment.
The rules are specific to Oregon investor-owned energy utilities, including Portland General Electric, PacifiCorp, Idaho Power, NW Natural, Cascade Natural and Avista.
The PUC has approved the following:
- Changes to the rule defining the disconnection of service to ensure the protection of vulnerable populations
- Language adjustments defining the actions a utility must take before disconnecting a customer who offers to pay cash at the door
- Certain fees waived for low-income customers
- Extension of the time required to notify customers of a service interruption due to non-payment
Disconnect from service
The PUC has approved rule changes to postpone the disconnection of service whenever temperatures below 32 degrees are forecast during the colder months of November through March or when a winter storm warning is in effect.
The previous rule required a break in disconnecting only if a high temperature below 32 degrees was forecast, which did not take into account very cold days that could have a high of up to 32 degrees. The rule now also states that utilities cannot disconnect service for non-payment when a customer is subject to certain wildfire evacuation notices and when the quality index of the air is equal to or greater than 100.
Utilities can now only disconnect service between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. to allow same-day service reconnection for customers.
Pay unpaid bills to avoid disconnection
The previous rule allowed energy utilities, when arriving at a home to disconnect service due to an unpaid bill, to collect a reasonable partial payment of the outstanding balance at the gate to avoid disconnection. The rule now requires that any energy utility with a policy of not accepting payment at the door be required to inform customers of the options available to pay the outstanding balance and have at least 24 hours to make payment. .
Removal of certain fees for low-income customers
The PUC approved rule changes to prohibit utilities from charging late payment fees and taking deposits. Additionally, certain reconnect fees will now also be waived for eligible low-income customers.
Extension of Disconnection Notice
Utility customers at risk of disconnection must now receive notification from their utility provider at least 20 days prior to a disconnection. This rule change gives customers more time to prepare for an impending disconnection and the ability to pay the outstanding balance to avoid disconnection.
“We appreciate the efforts of PUC staff, utilities and stakeholders who have been very involved in the process of updating these rules,” said Oregon PUC Commissioner Mark Thompson. “This is a good step forward in improving the protections afforded to customers experiencing financial and other hardship. These updates reflect the need to change business as usual to better recognize that people rely on their utilities to stay alive, while providing an orderly way to terminate services only when absolutely necessary. .
The Oregon Public Utilities Commission
The PUC regulates rates and service to customers of electric and natural gas utilities owned by state investors, including Portland General Electric, Idaho Power, Pacific Power, Avista, Cascade Natural, and NW Natural.
The PUC also regulates landline providers and some water companies. PUC’s mission is to ensure that Oregonians have access to safe, reliable, and fairly priced public services that advance state policy and promote the public interest.
For more information about the PUC, visit oregon.gov/puc.