I wanted to pass along some information related to billing assistance that remains in place through the pandemic and potential changes that may come in 2021 per the Oregon Public Utilities Commission (OPUC). Despite our proactive effort to contact small business customers with offers of bill assistance, there are still some we have not heard from. The OPUC has issued guidance on what utilities may do about those bills.
Bill Assistance Programs Remain in Effect
As you may recall, in March PGE voluntarily suspended late fees and disconnections to help customers facing financial hardships because of COVID-19. Disconnections for residential customers remain suspended until Spring 2021 and late fees will not resume for those customers until late 2022. We will continue proactively reaching out to help those customers understand programs and assistance funds that may be available to help avoid service disruption. For the last 8 months we have also proactively reached out to business customers and have been able to help many of them in a variety of ways. Small business billing assistance and payment arrangement options remain available for customers who contact us. That information can be found here: https://new.portlandgeneral.com/account/billing-payment-options We also recently submitted a proposal to Washington County to apply some of their federal CARES funds into an existing PGE small business support program. Approval is still pending but we hope that can provide even more assistance for those customers.
Oregon Public Utility Commission Framework
There are still some business customers who are in arrears on their bills that have not responded to our attempts to contact them and offer assistance. We wanted to let you know that PGE is among the regulated energy utilities that may resume late fees and disconnections for small business customers beginning on December 1, 2020. After a lengthy collaborative process led by the Oregon Public Utility Commission to understand the impacts of the pandemic on customers and utilities, with participation from stakeholders, advocates and regulated utilities, a framework was developed to help protect customers and provide consistent timelines while also ensuring that regulated utilities effectively manage their finances. Information about the OPUC’s workshops, including agendas, comments, data, presentations, information requests, and meeting recordings, are located on the Commission’s COVID19 page: https://www.oregon.gov/puc/utilities/Pages/COVID-19-Impacts.aspx [linkprotect.cudasvc.com].
We understand the importance of small businesses in our communities and that the impacts of the pandemic continue to be felt. We’re starting slowly by focusing on small business customers that have significant past due balances and that we’ve been unsuccessful in reaching. We will base our approach on a range of factors that include the amount in arrears, the customers’ history, the industry they work within and if it’s one that has been particularly hard-hit (e.g., restaurants, entertainment venues, etc.). We will not implement disconnections in the latter half of December over the holidays. Our goal is still to work with customers to find solutions. We’re looking for ways to help customers avoid service disruption, and to do that, we need them to contact us. To that end, please feel free to spread the word that customers can reach PGE to help.
I’m happy to answer any questions you might have.
Troy Gagliano, Manager, Local Government Affairs