State regulators on Tuesday extended protections against utility cutoffs through April 30, 2021, for some people who can’t pay their bills due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The state’s Utilities and Transportation Commission issued the order, but those regulations only apply to investor-owned utilities.
For now, at least, that ban does not include the Grays Harbor PUD, a publicly owned utility. For the time being, the GHPUD’s moratorium on shut-off’s is scheduled to end next week — on Oct. 15. Since April, the PUD has suspended late fees, residential disconnects and postponed its rate increase.
“ The UTC doesn’t actually govern us,” said Ian Cope, communications and government relations director at the PUD. “But we fully expect the governor to take some action (in regards to public utilities) in the next week.”
Should the state require the public utility districts to extend their moratoriums also, Cope said the PUD would feel repercussions.
“That could have a major impact on us if he was to do that,” said Cope, as the upcoming colder months are when the publicly owned utility generates the lion’s share of its revenue for its annual operating budget.
“Western Washington is a winter-peaking region,” Cope said of electricity demand in an earlier interview. And that demand generates lots of revenue.
Cope said the PUD has been in contact with the Governor’s Office and said one issue that the governor needs to stress to people in the state is that these bills will eventually come due, and any shut-off moratorium is far different than amnesty from eventual payment of past-due balances.
“We have been asking that he tell people this is not an excuse to not pay your bill,” Cope said.
The UTC’s actions are in response to customers who are unable to pay their utility bills during the COVID-19 economic crisis. Gov. Jay Inslee previously ordered a moratorium on shut-offs, which he extended nine times. The latest extension expires Oct. 15.
In response to the moratorium, some utilities across the state have noted that they have been helping customers. One of those is the GHPUD, which is offering numerous options for its customers.
Cope stresses that the most important thing people struggling to pay their electric bill can do is contact the PUD and let them know about that individual situation.
“If they have any issue, please call the utility and we can address that,” he said.
Cope said when these moratoriums do eventually end, a lot of people could be left holding very large bills that they are unable to pay.
“Some people’s bills could be nearly impossible to pay,” he said. “The PUD’s major message on this is, yes, you are still responsible for paying your bill. If you are having trouble, contact us! At least, then, we can see you have contacted us and work with you. There are agencies we work with that can provide assistance.”
Coastal Community Action Program works with eligible customers to help them get assistance with their power bills. They have received additional funds to help customers who have been directly affected by COVID-19 who have already received LIHEAP funds this year. Customers should contact CCAP at 360-533-5100 to see if they qualify for the program.
The Grays Harbor PUD has created a Pandemic Assistance Program for customers directly affected by the pandemic. Customers who are experiencing financial difficulties should contact customer service to see if they qualify.
Additionally, the PUD is working with customers to help extend normal pay arrangements, giving eligible customers more time to pay off past-due balances. The PUD also offers budget billing and a senior disabled discount program. Customers should call customer service to get more information on what program might be right for them.
Contact customer service at 360-532-4220 or email us at email@example.com
Additional assistance programs
■ Salvation Army: 360-533-6950
■ Veterans Relief Fund: 360-533-9863 224 firstname.lastname@example.org
■ Catholic Community Services: 360-612-3839
■ Olympic Area Agency on Aging: 360-532-0520
■ UTC: 1-888-333 WUTC or email@example.com