SCC Extends Moratorium on Utility Shutoffs but Warns Bills Are Piling Up

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Responding to a request from Governor Ralph Northam, Virginia’s State Corporation Commission (SCC) has agreed to extend a moratorium on utility shutoffs until October 5. The SCC warns that they will not extend the moratorium again. It has been in place since March 16, 2020.

“The mounting costs of unpaid bills must eventually be paid, either by the customers in arrears or by other customers who themselves may be struggling to pay their bills,” the SCC said in a press release.

By June 30, outstanding balance totaled $184 million, according to an SCC letter responding to a query from Virginia lawmakers. When requesting the extension, Northam said it would give the General Assembly time to finalize a budget and address the question of who pays the accumulated overdue bills. The AP reports that Northam wants to use the $320 million that Dominion previously overcharged to cover the outstanding bills.

The SCC statement says, “Unless the General Assembly explicitly directs that a utility’s own shareholders must bear the cost of unpaid bills, those costs will almost certainly be shifted to other paying customers.”

Rayhan Daudani, Dominion Energy spokesman, told The Virginia Star, “We support the SCC’s decision to grant Governor Northam’s request for an extension to the disconnect moratorium. We also believe policy makers should provide options to give customers behind on their bills a clean slate going forward. We are monitoring the discussions in the General Assembly on both topics.”

Clean Virginia Communications and Advocacy Director Cassady Craighill said her organization also supports Northam’s proposal. “In order to avoid kicking this can down the road, lawmakers have an easy choice to make: support the Governor’s budget amendment that includes fair repayment plans for customers and immediate economic relief using the millions that Virginia’s largest utility has already overcharged its customers.”

Craighill added, “The House has already refused to hear a bipartisan bill from Delegate Jay Jones (D-Norfolk) and Delegate Lee Ware (R-Goochland) that would have done just that. Fortunately, the Governor’s budget amendment preserves an opportunity for legislators to take action on this issue using money that already belongs to Virginians.”

When granting the utility shutoff extension, the SCC said, “We hope the General Assembly uses this additional time to act on this recommendation.”

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Digital Network.  Email tips to [email protected]

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