Over 30 North Carolina organizations are calling for the suspension of all utility shut-offs across the state during the coronavirus outbreak. In a letter addressed to the NC Utilities Commission, Governor Roy Cooper and key officials, the groups are urging for an immediate suspension of service disconnections and late payment fees for customers.
The letter also calls for Gov. Cooper to expand protections to cover all utilities not regulated by the commission –including internet service providers, gas, water, etc — in an effort to guarantee the same protections for households and businesses during the public health crisis.
Across the state, families and businesses are experiencing economic hardship either due to having contracted the coronavirus, protecting against spreading the virus, or having their jobs and businesses shut down because of the response to the crisis. As a result, thousands are already unable to pay for basic services, including electricity, gas and water, and this number will only grow as the virus spreads and the economy declines. Given the higher rate of poverty and lower-household incomes in rural areas and small towns, these communities are likely to feel the economic impact of the crisis more strongly.
The signatories to the letter call for a set of policies that will ensure access for every household and business to critical services, including a complete and open-ended suspension of service disconnections, the immediate and penalty-free reinstatement of services that had recently been discontinued, the suspension of late payment fees, and immediate notification of the new policies to customers through all available means.
The groups note that, prior to the commission’s order, some of the utilities regulated by the commission, such as Duke Energy and Dominion Energy, had put helpful policies in place, and the commission order now sets policies and standards that all commission-regulated utilities will have to follow.
In contrast, a significant number of rural electric cooperatives and municipal electric and water providers have yet to adopt needed policies. The public interest groups call on Governor Cooper to make all four policies mandatory for all utilities operating in the state that are not already under the commission’s order.
“The urgency of this crisis requires that those with the capability to relieve the burden this situation is causing for families and small businesses do everything in their power to achieve that. This includes every single utility and service company operating in North Carolina, not just those that are regulated by the state utility commission,” said Rory McIlmoil, Senior Energy Analyst for Appalachian Voices. “More people are struggling every day and it’s happening everywhere. They can’t wait any longer. We ask the governor to take immediate action to expand the scope and reach of the Commission’s order to include all utilities across the state.”
Dominion Energy and Duke Energy are among a few utilities giants that are not disconnecting any customer’s service for non-payment. So far, many companies are enacting additional steps to protect its customers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yet, some towns and rural areas still have not halted utility shutdowns. And as the nation continues to grapple with the economic decline caused by the outbreak, state governments and utility executives need to protect those who will receive the hardest financial impact.
To relieve the financial burden due to millions of layoffs, North Carolinians and local small businesses deserve these needed protections, and state lawmakers need to make sure that happens.