Inside INdiana Business

Hoosier utilities look to recoup lost revenue

INDIANAPOLIS (Inside INdiana Business) — A group of Indiana utilities has filed a joined petition with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission seeking permission to charge customers in an effort to recover revenue lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the 36-page document filed last week, the petitioners claim the healthcare crisis and “related government orders have resulted in significantly reduced load and revenues for some utilities.”

The utilities did not provide a dollar figure for how much they expect to lose as a result of the pandemic. In addition to the lost revenue, the petitioners say they have seen an increase in COVID-related costs including overtime, sick time due to prolonged illness, and employee sequestration.

“Many businesses have had to make difficult decisions to reduce and, in some cases, suspend their operations, which in turn has created significant financial challenges for residential customers,” the petition says. “Although utilities, the State of Indiana, and the federal government have taken unprecedented actions to respond to this event…it is unknown at this time how long the event will last, whether it will recur, or how significant the impact will be on Indiana customers and the utilities that provide them with essential services.”

The petitioners are also seeking permission to charge customers for “bad debt expenses” related to the state’s order to suspend disconnections for customers who have not paid their bills during the pandemic. The order is currently set to run through June 4.

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The 10 utilities who signed the joint petition include: Duke Energy Indiana LLC, Indiana Gas Company Inc., Indiana Natural Gas Corp., Indiana Michigan Power, Indianapolis Power & Light Co., Midwest Natural Gas Corp., Northern Indiana Public Service Co. LLC, Ohio Valley Gas Corp. and Ohio Valley Gas Inc., Southern Indiana Gas & Electric Co., and Sycamore Gas Co.

Meanwhile, the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor is calling on the IURC to open a formal investigation into “how utilities will deal with present and future overdue utility accounts along with the impacts of COVID-19 on utility rates and services statewide.”

The OUCC is proposing a two-phased approach to the investigation. The first phase includes expanding the disconnection suspension beyond June 4; waive all deposits, late fees, convenience fees, and reconnection fees; expand the use of payment arrangements to assist customers; and immediately start documenting and accounting for assets and liabilities related to stayed disconnections, waived fees, and extended payment plans.

The second phase features a focus on long-term issues, including “consideration of appropriate methodology to review the reasonableness, necessity, and prudency of any COVID-19-related cost recovery requests in future rate cases.”

“The full impact of the pandemic’s economic consequences will slowly emerge throughout the months ahead,” Indiana Utility Consumer Counselor Bill Fine said in a news release. “This extraordinary and unprecedented situation calls for new protections to ensure that all Hoosiers have access to essential services, especially consumers who are suffering loss of income through no fault of their own.”