Customers Bail Out Electric Companies in the Texas COVID 19 Electricity Relief Plan
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Customers Bail Out Electric Companies in the Texas COVID 19 Electricity Relief Plan

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Since the Coronavirus pandemic arrived in America, businesses all over have been scrambling to react. Whether that means protecting their assets or protecting their workers. For Electric Utility Companies, that means both. Unfortunately for all of us citizens who pay electric bill, we are the ones who are on the hook and are being forced to bail out the electric companies. The PUC has implemented the COVID 19 Electricity Relief Plan to help consumers and utility companies.

The Public Utility Commission of Texas has created a docket that relates to the coronavirus and laws that are being changed due to the crisis. The docket # is 50664 and can be found here: http://interchange.puc.texas.gov/

COVID 19 Electricity Relief Rules that Benefit Residents

There are several rules that benefit residential electricity customers such as:

  • Waiving late fees
  • Cease shut offs and disconnects
  • Deferred payment plans

COVID 19 Electricity Relief Rules that Hurts Texas Residents

Although the electric utility companies are being so kind as to waive late fees, shut offs, and disconnects, in most cases, you are still on the hook for what you owe.

To fund their “losses” the PUC is also forcing ratepayers to pay more on their utility bills in the future. Any expenses or losses that the utility companies are faced with are recorded and are essentially going to be reimbursed in the future by an additional tax on your bill. The PUC gladly allowed this with their great concern of pleasing their masters (the utility companies).

What they have done was proposed by ERCOT as a $.33 cents additional fee per mWh. billed to every customer for however long it takes to “repay” the utility companies for their “losses”. ERCOT is also loaning the utility companies to the likes of $15 million dollars, which is going to be paid back as a passthrough charge to consumers.

  • You are still on the hook for what you owe
  • Ratepayers are forced to pay an additional fee to bail out the utility companies – $.00033 per kwh
  • Utility companies are getting a blank check for reimbursements from ratepayers
  • All of the special non-disconnect, late fee waivers, rules do not apply to business or commercial consumers.
  • ERCOT is providing a $15 million dollar loan to the utility companies and the loan must be paid back by the ratepayers.

Why are we being forced to bail out the utility companies?

Why do customers have to pick up the slack for their lack resources or preparedness in an emergency? Utility company profits are always on the rise. Where does the money go? It doesn’t go back to the customers. It goes to their investors. The same people who have been milking the working class dry for the past 20 years. They don’t care about you or your family or the sacrifices you are having to make. All they care about is the bottom line. And your job loss, your inability to pay your electric bills is negatively affecting their bottom line, and guess what, YOU ARE GOING TO PAY FOR THEIR LOSSES.

Why the PUC is putting utility companies before consumers

The Rule that is being implemented by the PUC regarding the cost and payback of the expenses incurred by the utility companies is grossly unfair to the people of the State of Texas. Within the past month and a half, 600,000 Texans have applied for unemployment. That is nearly the size of the entire population of El Paso.

Forcing customers to bail out the TDU’s expenses during the crisis wrong. The PUC is essentially giving the TDU’s a blank check for their costs during the coronavirus pandemic. Who is going to provide oversight to ensure that these costs were actually incurred by the utility companies?  Why are the TDU’s not being asked to use their own assets to cover the cost of the pandemic losses. Why is the public being forced to bail out the utility companies for potentially years and years to come? The cost that the utility companies will face is unknown, therefore it should not be placed on the backs of the ratepayers for decades in the future without the ratepayers having any say in the matter.

The public has no investment in the utility companies and is never reimbursed for their contributions to their profits over the years. So why is the public being forced to pay for their losses. The utility companies should USE THEIR PROFITS over the past 20 years of to reimburse themselves for the crisis. Oncor reported $545 million in profits for 2018. These are private companies, they should act like private companies and pull themselves up by their bootstraps like the rest of the American population is forced to do on a daily basis. Maybe their “investors” can afford to lose a tiny percentage of the cash they are swimming in to help out the rest of the population that is about to be drowning in a sea of sickness, death, loss and unemployment.

600,000 Texans have lost their jobs, they are going to lose their savings, they are going to be behind on their bills.  The Public Utility Companies solution is to INCREASE the ratepayers rates in the future. This is cruel and wrong to the people of the State of Texas. The Public Utility Commission is not protecting the interests of the public. They are protecting the pocket books of the investors.

The “regulatory asset” should be paid out of the pockets of the utility companies who have been profiting off of their millions of customers for the past 20 years. And the argument that this is required to stabilize the market is a joke. Ask for money from the investors, not the customers. They have the money. The customers do not.

What can you do to prevent this act of thievery from the electric companies?

Email the PUC here: customer@puc.texas.gov

Read the official COVID-19 Electricity relief program document:

You can find documents and responses in the PUC Interchange. Just search for Docket 50664 here: http://interchange.puc.texas.gov/

I have also provided the Rules from the actual document below:

 

PUC Texas Seal

COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program
Overview


On March 19, 2020, Governor Abbott issued Executive Order No. GA-08 that set forth four orders effective from March 20, 2020 until April 3, 2020, subject to extension. The orders state the following:

  • Order No. 1 – In accordance with the Guidelines from the President and the CDC, every person in Texas shall avoid social gatherings in groups of more than 10 people.
  • Order No. 2 – In accordance with the Guidelines from the President and the CDC, people shall avoid eating or drinking at bars, restaurants, and food courts, or visiting gyms or massage parlors; provided, however, that the use of drive-thru, pickup, or delivery options is allowed and highly encouraged throughout the limited duration of this executive order.
  • Order No. 3 – In accordance with the Guidelines from the President and the CDC, people shall not visit nursing homes or retirement or long-term care facilities unless to provide critical assistance.
  • Order No. 4 – In accordance with the Guidelines from the President and the CDC, schools shall temporarily close.

  • The customer assistance program (COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program) applies to residential customers meeting the eligibility criteria of the program.
  • The COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program creates a temporary exemption from disconnections for non-payment for eligible residential customers in areas open to customer choice, thus protecting affected residential customers and reducing the exposure of the competitive market from excessive COVID-19-related bad debt that could lead to industry upheaval and bankruptcies.
  • Only the residential classes will be eligible for the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program and suspension of disconnection for non-payment. Retail electric providers (REPs) will contact residential customers to place the customer on deferred payment plans before submitting reimbursement claims.
  • As previously recommended, the Commission will issue an order under 16 Texas Administrative Code (TAC) §§ 25.480(j)(1)(B) and 25.498(i)(1)(B) requiring REPs to offer deferred payment plans to customers who have experienced financial hardship due to the state of disaster Governor Abbott has declared for COVID-19. As provided by those rules, REPs may implement switch-holds for customers who enter into a deferred payment plan. When a customer contacts a REP and indicates an inability to pay a bill, or to make a deferred payment plan installment, the REP will inform the customer of the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program and will provide instructions for the customer to contact the Low-Income List Administrator (LILA) to self-enroll.
  • The moratorium on disconnections for non-payment currently implemented by the transmission and distribution utilities (TDUs) will end upon the implementation of the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program as described below.

Mechanism

  • TDUs will implement a rider to facilitate funding the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program for customers within the customer choice areas of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). The rider will collect funds to be utilized to reimburse TDUs and REPs for unpaid bills from eligible residential customers experiencing unemployment due to the impacts of COVID-19 and to ensure continuity of electric service for those residential customers.
  • The rider will be a set amount per kilowatt hour (“kWh”) with funds collected and administered by the TDUs across all customer classes. The initial rider will be based on $0.33 per megawatt hour (MWh). The TDUs will implement the rider within ten days of the Commission’s order establishing the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program. The rider will have an immediate effective date.
  • For the initial balance of the fund, each TDU will verify the amount it needs based upon estimated reimbursement requests to ERCOT. To assist the public interest under the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program, ERCOT will provide the initial contribution of up to a total of $15 million to create the TDUs’ initial fund balance. This contribution will be considered an allowable expense under 16 TAC § 25.363(c). For reporting purposes, ERCOT will process the contribution as an interest free receivable in its books until fully repaid by each TDU. ERCOT and each TDU will enter into an interest free loan agreement that will describe the payment terms and conditions and be consistent with the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program. Each loan agreement will be filed with the Commission. Amounts to be repaid to ERCOT will be collected through the TDU riders and repaid prior to the end of the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program.
  • If the rider is collecting insufficient funds to cover the TDU and REP eligible costs, then the TDU will file a request for an adjustment to the rider. At any point during the pendency of the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program, TDUs or REPs may petition the Commission for a review of or amendment to the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program, including adjustments to the rider. The Commission will act on any petition within 30 days.
  • The fund will reimburse the following entities and eligible costs: REPs with energy charges related to eligible residential customers with an unpaid, past due electric bill subject to a disconnection for non-payment notice; TDUs for delivery charges related to eligible residential customers with an unpaid, past due electric bill subject to a disconnection for non-payment notice; the third-party administrator to cover its reasonable costs of administrating the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program eligibility process; and ERCOT for the initial contribution. Disbursements to REPs will be calculated using a standardized energy charge based on an average energy cost of $0.04 per kWh.
  • The following customer identification process will be used, facilitated by the third-party vendor, who is the same entity as the Low-Income List Administrator (LILA). A bresidential customer who cannot pay their electric bill due to unemployment or low-income from the effects of the COVID-19 disaster must contact the LILA. The residential customer must provide the LILA with an attestation of unemployment (to be followed by documentation of unemployment within 30 days) and sufficient information to identify the customer’s electric service account (e.g., service address, account number, and telephone number). The LILA will compare the customer’s information to the lists of residential customers submitted by REPs to create files of matching residential customers eligible for the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program. Each REP must retrieve from the third-party vendor the list of residential customers served by that REP who are eligible for the COVID19 Electricity Relief Program.
  • REPs will cease submitting disconnection for non-payment orders for residential customers identified as eligible for the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program.
  • A residential customer who demonstrates eligibility for the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program is deemed as having established satisfactory credit for the purpose of 16 TAC § 25.478(a).
  • TDUs will cease charging REPs for delivery charges, except securitization-related charges, related to customers identified as eligible for the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program.
  • The COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program, including the suspension of disconnections for non-payment and addition of residential customers to the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program will end six months after the date of the Commission order approving the program unless extended by the Commission. If Executive Order No. GA-08 is still in effect has not been lifted at the end of the six-month period, the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program may be extended for an additional period if, after a reassessment of the need for the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program, the Commission determines that the need for the program continues to exist. The TDUs’ riders will remain in place and reimbursements to the TDUs and REPs will continue after the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program has ended to complete any remaining COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program cost recovery and to disburse all reimbursement amounts or remaining balances.
  • Final claims for reimbursement must be submitted to TDUs not later than 90 days after the end of the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program. For any amounts recovered under the rider that remain after the end of the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program, the TDUs will issue a refund through REPs to end-use customers in the same manner the rider was charged. REPs must pass through any monies refunded to customers.
  • TDUs will prepare reports on the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program to be filed at the Commission every 30 days providing data showing aggregate amounts of reimbursements to the TDUs and REPs. Reimbursements and collections will be subject to reconciliation and audit by the Commission.
  • REPs will submit one spreadsheet with reimbursement claims to TDUs monthly on the 15th of each month. TDUs will create a standard spreadsheet format; however, the spreadsheet will include the following information: ESI IDs; kWh usage; kWh usage x $0.04; and Invoice Number. Reimbursement payments to REPs will be processed within 14 days.
  • REPs will reflect reimbursement sought through the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program on the affected customer’s account and cease to seek continued collection where funds are received from the program during the pendency of the program. REPs are allowed to recover the remaining balances from the eligible residential customer after the cessation of the program.
  • The Commission will waive all relevant deadlines within its rules related to required changes to the REP ‘s Terms of Service and Electricity Facts Labels contract documents relevant to the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program.
  • The Commission will issue an order granting authority for the TDUs to create a regulatory asset to capture all reimbursement amounts and the ERCOT contribution. The funds collected from the rider will be used to offset the regulatory asset and the ERCOT contribution repayment. The rider will stay in effect until the regulatory asset balance is zero and ERCOT has been reimbursed.

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