Last Tuesday, state regulators approved protections for electric and natural gas utility customers who are struggling to pay their bills due to financial impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The commission ordered investor-owned electric and natural gas utilities in Washington to continue a moratorium on disconnections for nonpayment until April 30, 2021. Also, utilities will continue to waive deposits for new customers and all late fees through Oct. 27, 2021.

Utilities must also work with customers to establish long-term payment arrangements for up to 18 months for residential customers, and 12 months for small commercial customers.

In addition to payment arrangements, all utilities must also create a COVID-19 bill payment assistance program funded at 1 percent of their Washington state retail revenues, in addition to any existing local and federal assistance programs.

The commission will discuss final terms at the next regularly scheduled open meeting on Oct. 15.

In April, Gov. Jay Inslee issued a proclamation banning energy, water, and telecommunication companies from disconnecting customers due to nonpayment, refusing to reconnect residential customers who were disconnected for nonpayment, and charging late fees or reconnection fees. The moratorium is currently set to expire Oct. 15, 2020.

The UTC organized a COVID-19 stakeholder workgroup to facilitate development of guidelines so that customers experiencing economic hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic maintain access to essential services after the proclamation expires. The guidelines approved today were submitted by UTC staff in a term sheet, as a culmination of the workgroup’s efforts over the past three months.

The UTC received over 2,000 public comments on this issue, and previously held a COVID-19 response meeting on June 16.

A recording of Tuesday’s meeting can be found on TVW’s website at https://tinyurl.com/yyb6qzoz.