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Michigan AG Nessel, Consumer Advocates Ask Municipal Utilities to Voluntarily Follow MPSC's Order on Moratoriums and Data Reporting
April 24, 2020
In response to issues surrounding coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) last week ordered all utilities under its jurisdiction to provide certain protections for their customers and report related data to the MPSC by April 20.
However, due to limitations on the MPSC’s jurisdiction, the order does not address municipal utilities, which is why Attorney General Dana Nessel and consumer advocate groups are asking those entities to voluntarily comply with the MPSC order.
Joining the Attorney General in making that request is the Michigan Environmental Council (MEC) and the Citizens Utility Board of Michigan (CUB).
Under the MPSC’s April 15 order, the following minimum protections are in place for vulnerable customers related to bill payment, disconnection of service and reconnection of service:
- Protections for Michigan’s low-income customers and seniors – Suspend disconnections for Michigan’s most vulnerable populations, low-income and senior customers, through June 1, 2020, and waive late fees for eligible low-income customers receiving energy assistance.
- Protections for customers medically affected by COVID-19 – Allow for customers exposed to, quarantined or infected by COVID-19 to be eligible for an additional 30-day medical hold to suspend a disconnection service. The criteria and eligibility provisions for this medical hold are in addition to those existing under state regulations (Mich Admin Code, R 460.130).
- Restoration of electric and gas service – Waive deposits and reconnection fees for low-income customers, seniors and customers experiencing financial hardship related to COVID-19 and seeking restoration of electric or natural gas service.
- Offer financial and customer assistance – Extend access to and flexibility of payment plans to customers financially impacted by COVID-19 and provide customer assistance personnel with the resources necessary to connect customers to available financial assistance and social services agencies.
- Safeguard customers and workforce employees – Safeguard customers and utility workers by limiting face-to-face contact through the closing of office lobbies, focusing efforts to provide emergency and critical infrastructure-related activities, and adopting COVID-19 best practices as outlined by the State of Michigan and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The MPSC ordered these utilities to also provide data on efforts made to determine which customers have electric/natural gas service, which do not due to non-payment, and actions taken to reconnect customers – particularly low-income, elderly or individuals impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the MPSC’s jurisdiction is limited as to municipal utilities and it does not have authority to order similar protections for these entities. Some municipal utilities may already be providing similar protections, but it is important for all municipal utilities to report those protections and the data on reconnections to the MPSC to allow all customers to easily determine the protections available to them. Similarly, it is important for cooperatives, who are only required to provide the protections, to also provide this data to the MPSC.
“I applaud the Michigan Public Service Commission for ordering these minimum protections and requiring data reporting on reconnection efforts,” said Nessel. “During this time of unprecedented economic strain, it is essential for customers to have access to basic utility services. In order to ensure that all customers in this state have similar access to these services, I am asking all municipal utilities in Michigan to voluntarily follow the MPSC’s April 15 order and provide these same minimum levels of assistance as well as report this crucial data to the Commission.”
“As a group dedicated to representing the interests of residential energy customers in this state, CUB vigorously joins Attorney General Nessel's call for all Michigan utilities to take these steps,” Citizens Utility Board of Michigan Executive Director Amy Bandyk said. "Customers of munis are just as vulnerable as those of investor-owned utilities. Even in normal times many Michigan residential customers fall behind on their utility bills and face a high energy burden. As so many in our state are struggling right now, these added consumer protections and increased accountability measures are crucial.”
“Having access to affordable, reliable electric and gas service is essential at all times for living comfortable healthy lives, but more so than?ever when all Michiganders are sheltering in place,” said Charlotte Jameson, program director for legislative affairs, energy and drinking?water for Michigan Environmental Council. “All communities in Michigan have been hit by the coronavirus and a patchwork of utility responses won't provide the level of consistency in protection that is needed. In fact, our research shows many municipal utilities have not adopted any protections for their customers during the pandemic. We strongly encourage all municipal utilities to voluntarily comply with Commission order so that no Michigander who is struggling right now is left behind.”??