State utility regulators keep moratorium on service terminations

Associated Press
Pennsylvania officials are aware of the gathering and have advised against it.

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania's Public Utility Commission on Thursday rejected an attempt by one of its members to end its three-month-old moratorium preventing utilities from terminating service to non-paying customers while the state fights the spread of the coronavirus.

The motion failed on a 2-2 vote, with the panel's Democrats opposing the motion and the panel's Republicans backing it.

Commissioner John F. Coleman Jr., had sought to allow non-natural gas utilities — electric, water, sewer and telephone — to begin termination processes for non-residential customers on July 1, and for residential customers on July 15.

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The utility commission slapped a moratorium on shutoffs in March as Gov. Tom Wolf was in the midst of a cascade of shutdown orders to help stop the spread of the virus.

In his motion, Coleman said utilities' compliance with the moratorium has been “exemplary,” with no utilities deliberately violating it.

However, he suggested that Wolf's emergency disaster order could expire at any time, with the state's highest court set to decide whether a resolution passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature last week can legally end it. That would effectively end the moratorium, he said.

Coleman also said electric utilities are asking to restart termination processes, and warned that delaying it will result in large unpaid bills that “will require them to undertake aggressive collection efforts beginning in early August.”

The commission's order halts terminations, but not collection activities, Coleman wrote.

The number of natural gas customers eligible for terminations is less or comparable to the same period last year, while electric, water and telephone utilities show an increase in accounts that would be subject to termination, he wrote. Of those, about 567,000 commercial and residential accounts could be subject to termination proceedings, according to state data, up nearly 100,000 from a year ago.