continue to face unprecedented health and financial hardships due to the
COVID-19 pandemic, the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor (OUCC)--the
state’s consumer advocate--is calling for short- and long-term ratepayer
OUCC is asking the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (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.
by Indiana utilities are currently suspended through June 4, per Gov. Eric
Holcomb’s executive orders. Without the suspension, utilities could enforce
disconnections. Utilities also have broad discretion for setting payment
plan parameters. “No uniform protections are in place for likely arrearages
that may yet develop during the pandemic,” the OUCC said.
The OUCC is
accordingly requesting a two-phase approach to the proposed investigation.
In Phase I, it’s asking the OUCC to order all jurisdictional utilities to do
-- Extend the
suspension of disconnections for an appropriate timeframe 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 full impact of
the pandemic’s economic consequences will slowly emerge throughout the
months ahead,” Indiana Utility Consumer Counselor Bill Fine said. “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.”
Phase II of the
investigation would focus on longer-term issues related to COVID-19. Among
other things, the issues would include consideration of an appropriate
methodology to review the reasonableness, necessity, and prudency of any
COVID-19-related cost recovery requests in future rate cases.
The IURC has
jurisdiction over most Indiana investor-owned electric, natural gas, and
water/wastewater utlities along with certain municipal and not-for-profit
The IURC does not
have jurisdiction over municipal sewer utilities, telecommunications
companies, or broadband service providers. In its petition, the OUCC
encourages non-jurisdictional utilities to similarly suspend disconnections,
waive certain fees, and expand customer payment arrangements.