AIM Backs Program to Help Companies with Energy Bills

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AIM Backs Program to Help Companies with Energy Bills

Energy News | June 5, 2020
By: Robert Rio

Associated Industries of Massachusetts has expressed support for a new program that will assist companies that have fallen behind on gas or electricity payments during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) had already issued a directive to utilities prohibiting shutoffs during the pandemic for past-due accounts. The new proposal is designed to enhance existing arrearage management options and assist customers to pay off arrearages when the state of emergency ends and shutoffs can legally resume.

AIM on May 29 signed on to a Customer Assistance Report filed with the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) supporting energy relief (gas and electricity) for some C&I customers suffering from economic fallout from COVID-19.

The filing (docketed as D.P.U. 20-58) was the result of a month-long working group recommended by the Massachusetts energy distribution companies, and convened at the direction of the DPU.

AIM was the only trade group to sign the recommendation – the other signatories were groups representing low-income residential customers, along with the Attorney General’s Office (AGO), the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) and the distribution companies.

Data shows many residents and businesses are struggling with paying their bills. Gas companies are seeing year-over-year double-digit increases in past-due accounts. Electricity providers are seeing even higher rates of past-due accounts.

The Customer Assistance Report, which still must be reviewed and approved by the DPU and therefore subject to some modification, includes the following proposals:

  • For small commercial and industrial (C&I) energy customers, distribution companies will offer a 12-month repayment plan (with a possibility of up to 18 months on a case-by-case basis). Large C&I customers would be handled on a case-by-case basis, for terms up to 6 months.
  • For all C&I customers, the shutoff moratorium would be extended to September 1, with notices about the availability of approved payment options sent out earlier. Breaching a payment plan would cause the customer to be placed back into normal payment plans.
  • Late fees would be waived for any customer on deferred-payment plan.
  • Small C&I customers would have a one-time arrearage forgiveness plan. Details of this program are still be worked out and will be filed later after more discussions.
  • Energy distribution companies will develop a four-phase plan for outreach to all customers.

Companies will be notified of their options when all the programs are approved.

The proposal was made based on many factors, including anticipated need, the availability of other resources and balancing the costs of the programs on the likelihood of ultimate collection as any cost-recovery for nonpayment is eventually paid by others in the same rate class, pushing the rates of those customers higher.

AIM looks forward to continuing discussions with the DPU, attorney general, Department of Energy Resources and distribution companies to develop effective programs for customers to get on back on line quickly.

If you would like more information, please contact Robert Rio, Senior VP Government Affairs at rrio@aimnet.org.