The George Wiley Center turned out in force at the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission (PUC) Tuesday morning in what has become an annual tradition: Encouraging the commission to enable affordable utility service restoration for Rhode Islanders currently shut off from gas or electric service. As it has in the last nine years, the PUC adopted policies that will allow those who are behind on their utility bills to restore service for a deposit of 10 percent of what is owed.
As Camilo Viveiros, coordinator at the George Wiley Center explains, “While many recently experienced the hardship of temporary power outages due to storm effects, and the news now reports “all” are turned back on, unfortunately this is not the case. All are not turned back on. The current reality is that thousands in our state are still without utility service or are facing shut-off due to the economic inequality storm, the cruel and unsustainable policies that make basic needs unaffordable for too many households.”
The PUC adopted the following procedures, which should help low-income utility customers restore power for the holidays:
From November 23, 2017 through December 31, 2017, any residential customer whose utility service has been terminated by National Grid for non-payment or who has a Termination date scheduled will be entitled to have such service restored by National Grid upon satisfaction of two of the following conditions:
- for a customer owing less than $1000, 10% of the balance owed must be paid and the remainder of that balance must be paid within 18 months;
- for a customer owing at least $1000 but less than $2500, 10% of the balance owed must be paid and the remainder of that balance must be paid within 24 months;
- for a customer owing $2500 or more, 10% of the balance owed must be paid and the remainder of that balance must be paid within 36 months unless the Company chooses to extend such time period;
- to participate in a payment plan under this provision, Part V, Section 4(G), the customer either: did not participate in one of the plans listed in Part V, Section 4(G)(a)-(c) in a prior year or did participate and currently has a balance due on his or her account that is the same or less than the balance that customer had upon enrollment in the prior year plan listed in Part V, Section 4(G)(a)-(c), or did participate last year and currently has a higher balance but makes an additional down payment to bring the current balance down to or below the balance at enrollment last year.
In addition to the down payments specified above, customers must pay current bills within the time period allowed by National Grid. A formal commitment to receive funds from any social service agency by December 31, 2017 for either all or part of the down payment required above shall be considered compliance with the provisions of this rule provided that customer has satisfied the other conditions set forth above.
PUC Chair Margaret Curran urged those attending the short meeting to become involved in an upcoming rate case called by National Grid. The rate case will allow for a rewriting of the rules under which National Grid operates. Robust public involvement increases the likelihood that National Grid will be held to a higher standard in community service and accountability.
“We’re asking them to implement the PIPP (Percentage Income Payment Plan) program as part of [the rate case],” said Vivieros. “For this one [seasonal utility restoration] we have a long standing tradition of [the PUC] listening to us, but for [the rate case] we really need to have four or five times as many people to make sure they know loud and clear that they can’t make some of the other changes in that docket without making sure that low-income people are protected.” Under PIPP, a plan Rhode Island had in place from 1986 to the mid-90’s, people pay a percentage of their income for their utility bills instead of a fixed rate.