INDIANAPOLIS (Inside INdiana Business) — The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission has denied a request from a group of Hoosier utilities seeking to recover lost revenue from the COVID-19 pandemic by charging customers. In an order as part of Phase 1 of its previously-announced investigation, the commission also extended the moratorium on utility disconnections.
Last month, the utilities filed a petition with the commission saying in addition to the lost revenue, they had also seen an increase in COVID-related costs including overtime, sick time due to prolonged illness, and employee sequestration.
“Under the regulatory compact, at a base level, utilities are obligated to provide safe, reliable service and customers are obligated to pay just and reasonable rates for any such service they receive,” the IURC said in its order. “The balance of this Order seeks to work toward allowing customers to meet their obligation while providing utilities the reasonable relief they need to help such customers do so. However, asking customers to go beyond their obligation and pay for service they did not receive is beyond reasonable utility relief based on the facts before us.”
The commission has also extended the moratorium on disconnecting utilities for customers who have not paid their bills an additional 45 days, keeping it in place through August 14. The moratorium was slated to expire on Tuesday.
“Temporarily prohibiting disconnections until August 14, 2020 is a balanced solution that allows both customers and utilities additional time to enter into reasonable payment arrangements to address any arrearages that may have accumulated and maintain essential utility services for the benefit of all customers, the utilities, and other stakeholders,” the commission said.
The IURC has doubled the minimum requirement for extended payment plans by requiring all utilities under its jurisdiction to offer payment plans of at least six months. The commission is also encouraging utilities not under its jurisdiction to implement the efforts outlined in the order, “given the statewide impact of COVID-19.”
The commission says it is authorizing all utilities to record COVID-19-related impacts associated with the prohibition of utility disconnections, collections of certain utility fees, and the use of expanded payment arrangements. Those records may be considered for cost recovery in the future.
The IURC did not provide a timeline for the completion of the second phase of its investigation.