States Tackle Energy
Volume 3: Utility Billing, Fraud, and Shut-off Legislation
In 2010, state legislatures considered a range of legislation related to billing, fraud and protection of vulnerable citizens from utility shutoff.
At least three states introduced legislation relate to billing in 2010. Michigan's pending legislation MI SB 535 requires municipally owned utilities to comply with service shut-off rules. New Jersey's pending legislation, SB 584, would allow public providers of utility services to bill customers electronically upon request. Hawaii introduced three bills that failed: HB 2104 provided discount electricity rates for agriculture while HCR 97 and HR 48 required businesses turn off the lights after business hours.
Two states dealt with legislation concerning fraud in 2010. Michigan passed SB 1310, which addressed unauthorized use of a utility service and the cutting of services due to unauthorized use. Pennsylvania's pending legislation SB 450 amends the Public Utilities Code to allow for termination of service due to nonpayment, failure to complete payment, or failure to permit access to meters. Immediate termination is permitted on account of fraud, identity theft, or tampering with public utility equipment.
Needs based Services and Utilities
Four states considered legislation to protect lower income populations. Michigan enacted HB 4673, requiring municipally owned electric utilities to provide service for eligible customers during winter if the customer enters into a heating assistance program. Michigan also has pending legislation, HB 4649, requiring greater communication between state and utility providers when it comes to individuals enrolled in energy assistance programs. California has pending legislation, AB 2207, that requires gas or electrical corporations to provide bill payment plans for customers who are subject to termination of service for nonpayment of a delinquent bill. Pennsylvania introduced legislation, SB 1124, requiring Department of Public Welfare to provide for compliance and fraud prevention concerning Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program eligibility and allocation of resources. New Jersey has pending legislation, AB 890, that would require additional notices to governmental agencies for residential customers whose utility services are terminated.
Protecting Vulnerable Citizens
Both New Jersey and New York introduced legislation concerning protection of vulnerable citizens. New Jersey's pending legislation, AB 2109, creates notice requirements for utility shut-offs in senior living facilities. New York has pending legislation, SB 1314, that prevents utility service termination during cold weather periods without specific requirements.
Pennsylvania and Vermont introduced bills regarding communication. Pennsylvania's pending legislation, SB 453, provides for personal contact with the customer 48 hours prior to terminating service. Vermont's legislation, HB 415, which failed, would have permitted a tenant to withhold rent in order to pay overdue water or utility bills if the landlord is responsible for preventing utility shut-offs.
In 2009, state legislatures considered utility based regulations in order to protect their more vulnerable citizens, particularly low-income and elderly customers. Many states have either established or extended requirements for utilities to prevent them from shutting off electricity, gas and other utilities during periods of extreme weather, especially during the winter months. Some states also established procedures to identify citizens using life-sustaining equipment to protect them from a utility shut-off when they fail to make utility payments.
The legislation for utility shut-off procedures is based on time of year, temperature, and special circumstances, which prohibit shut-offs in homes with medically vulnerable citizens, or in cases where customers have established a payment plan with the utilities.
Every state—with the exception of Florida, Hawaii, and Virginia—has some type of utility shut-off legislative in place. Hawaii considered a new utility rate scheme for vulnerable citizens.
States Considering Utility Shut-off Related Legislation in 2009
Connecticut, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan and Texas considered legislation related to utility shut-offs in 2009. Michigan introduced more than 20 bills which related to shutoffs, including bills establishing requirements for notices of shutoffs for public utilities, allowing the Public Service Commission to establish penalties for utility violations of shutoff procedures and requiring the Public Service Commission to investigate any utility shut-off which results in death or serious injury.
Although Connecticut failed to pass its winter shut-off prohibition for unregulated utilities, the legislature did pass a bill protecting homeowners at risk of utility service termination. The law provides that a person seeking to terminate electric, gas, telecommunications or water service at a residential dwelling shall provide identification and other information to prove that the person terminating the service is the customer of record.
Hawaii's pending legislation, which will carry-over into 2010, requires the public utilities commission to implement a program to achieve lifeline electricity rates, which would lower rates for elderly residential electricity users with limited income, the handicapped with limited income and any person with a medical condition who is dependent on a medical device requiring electricity to operate.
Indiana adopted a bill that will urge utilities to extend the moratorium on disconnections. Indiana also considered but failed to pass a bill that allows the Utility Regulatory Commission to impose a civil penalty of up to $5,000 if a public utility providing energy services violates or fails to comply with any utility law, rate or service requirement imposed by the Commission. The bill also would have allowed for an additional penalty of up to $10,000 for a utility's willful violation or failure to comply with the law.
Kentucky considered and failed to pass legislation related to low-income heating assistance that would have authorized the governor to increase the budget of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program by $2,000,000 should it run out of money this coming winter.
Maryland Public Service Commission ordered two utilities to delay shutting off delinquent customers' gas or electricity service for one week, extending the date to April 7 instead of March 31 to allow for warmer temperatures.
The Michigan Public Service Commission, following a request from the governor, extended existing shutoff protection from March 31 until April 30.The Michigan legislature also has over 20 bills pending in both the House and Senate relating to utility shut-off procedures and protections.
Texas considered, and failed, two bills that would establish safeguards for critical care, elderly or low-income customers of electric utilities, as well as a temporary moratorium for disconnection of electric service for those customers.