Washington State COVID-19 Status Report, February 23, 2021
Utility regulators extend customer protections through July 31
The Utilities and Transportation Commission extended protections for electric and natural gas customers struggling to pay their bills due to the ongoing economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
State regulators extended an order — previously set to expire on April 30 — preventing investor-owned energy utilities from disconnecting customers for nonpayment through July 31. Utilities will also continue to waive late fees and deposits through Jan. 27, 2022.
The order allows utilities to begin sending notices to customers in June, reminding them that disconnections will resume, and supplying information about payment options and customer assistance programs.
In the order, the commissioners said, “ The pandemic continues, and efforts to combat it are evolving. The Commission is committed to remaining flexible when addressing the changing circumstances in these challenging times. … We remain committed to addressing equity issues that impact utility customers, and we look forward to continuing to engage with stakeholders and the public to protect Washington’s most vulnerable communities.”
As of December 2020, almost 277,000 residential electric and natural gas customers across the state have past due balances totaling $79.1 million, a 65% increase from 2019. Utilities project that this debt will continue to increase in 2021.
During 2020, the five investor-owned utilities — Puget Sound Energy, PacifiCorp, Avista, Northwest Natural Gas, and Cascade Natural Gas — dispersed assistance funds to more than 91,000 low-income customers and customers who lost income due to the pandemic, an increase of 31% from 2019.
The commission also required utilities to set up new assistance programs specifically to aid customers struggling due to the pandemic. Customers who need help should reach out to their companies directly to ask about these programs and other options such as payment plans.
Customers can visit www.utc.wa.gov/CovidHelp for information about their rights, a comprehensive list of COVID-19 utility assistance programs, and information about the federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), or call the commission at 1-888-333-WUTC (9882).
The UTC will hold another special meeting in May to review utility preparedness to serve low-income customers and reassess the status of the pandemic and its health and economic impacts.
In April 2020, Gov. Jay Inslee issued a proclamation banning energy, water, and telecommunication companies from disconnecting customers due to nonpayment, refusing to reconnect residential customers who were disconnected for nonpayment, and charging late fees or reconnection fees. The statewide moratorium is currently set to expire April 30, 2021.
In February, the UTC received more than 600 public comments on this issue.
A recording of the Feb. 17 open meeting can be found on TVW’s website.
The UTC regulates the rates and services of the state’s investor-owned electric and natural gas utilities, landline telephone companies, and private water systems among other industries. It is the commission’s responsibility to ensure regulated companies provide safe and reliable service to customers at reasonable rates, while allowing them the opportunity to earn a fair profit.
COVID-19 Reopening Guidance for Businesses and Workers
On January 5, Governor Inslee announced the Healthy Washington – Roadmap to Recovery plan, which lays out the process to safely reopen Washington state. The plan includes guidance for certain businesses and industries to help protect Washingtonians and minimize the spread of COVID-19.
The full Healthy Washington phased chart is available here.
Important Reference Documents
- Regional Phase Status(“Roadmap to Recovery”)
- Outdoor and Open-air Structures(with FAQ)
- Facial Coverings Guidance for Businesses
- Voluntary Contact Information
Healthy Washington Requirements
The following business activities must adhere to the occupancy and operation requirements outlined for their region’s Healthy Washington phase:
Religious and Faith-Based Organizations
Eating and Drinking Establishments
Weddings, Funerals and Events
Sports, Recreation and Fitness
- Fitness and Training
- Outdoor Recreation
- Water Recreation
- Sporting Activities
- Racing: non-motorized and motorized
Indoor Entertainment Establishments
Outdoor Entertainment Establishments
All employers must follow COVID-19 prevention protocols for employees as required by the Department of Labor and Industries. Industry-specific workplace requirements are listed below:
Additional Industry Requirements
- Agricultural Industry
- Agricultural Events
- Car Washes
- Domestic Services
- In Store Retail
- Miscellaneous Venues
- Motion Picture Industry
- Outdoor Maintenance/Landscaping
- Pet Grooming
- Professional Photography
- Real Estate
- Recovery Support Groups
- Theater and Performing Arts
- Vehicle and Vessel Sales
- Workforce Education Programs
For additional industry-specific safety practices, including those for Farm and Agricultural Workers, Food Workers and Establishments, schools, healthcare providers, and others, please visit the Department of Health’s Resources and Recommendations Page.
Source: Brynn Brady