Consumer Protections During the Coronavirus Emergency
PUCO Asks Public Utilities to Suspend Disconnections and Extends Its Winter Reconnection Order for Consumers During Health Emergency
The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) has asked public utilities to suspend their disconnections of consumers for nonpayment, due to the health emergency. The Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel (OCC) advises Ohioans to try to stay current on their utility bills to avoid potential issues in the future when the ban on disconnections is over. Consumers who are behind on payments may contact their utilities for options including payment plans and payment assistance.
The PUCO waived limitations on reconnections of utility services for residential and business customers. Also, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has issued an Order to protect consumers of public water systems. The OEPA prohibited disconnections of consumers for nonpayment of service fees and required reconnections of consumers who were disconnected after January 1, 2020 for nonpayment of service fees.
The Consumers’ Counsel Advocates to Repurpose Consumer-Paid Funds from Columbia’s Low-Income Gas Weatherization Programs to Bill-Payment Assistance and to End Consumer Funding of Columbia’s Non-Low-Income Programs
The Ohio Consumers’ Counsel urged the PUCO to repurpose millions of dollars from low-income weatherization programs run by Columbia Gas of Ohio to bill-payment assistance for residents and businesses hit hard by the pandemic. OCC estimates that up to 80,000 Columbia consumers could receive bill-payment assistance with the funds currently used to weatherize up to merely 2,000 residences.
“[T]hat repurposing of funds is supportable under, among other things, the regulatory principle of equity – and it is especially supportable during these times of the health emergency and its aftermath given the terrible consequences to health and finances for many people.” (Page 4)
“The greater need of low-income Columbia consumers now is for money to assist with payment of their Columbia bills. And there is a far greater number of consumers who can benefit from bill payment assistance than from weatherization.” (Page 9)
“The PUCO should find ways to reduce charges to consumers given the health emergency and the related developing financial emergency that many Ohioans will face for possibly years. Columbia’s non-low-income energy efficiency programs and related subsidy charges to consumers should be suspended until and unless the PUCO decides otherwise.” (Page 3)
The Ohio Legislature passed HB 197 which authorizes the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to order public water systems to require restoration to those who have been shut off and prohibit being turned off until the end of the pandemic emergency.
The Ohio Consumers’ Counsel hosts a webpage with information provided by local and federal sources to inform consumers about scams and nuisance calls.