RI Energy to Forgive $43.5M in Ratepayers’ Debt
To qualify, eligible ratepayers must be more than 90 days behind on their bills as of the end of March this year
September 1, 2022
WARWICK, R.I. — Ratepayers behind on their utility bills by 90 days or more as of March 30, 2022, will have their debt forgiven by Rhode Island Energy.
State regulators, during a meeting of the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission (PUC) on Tuesday, said the utility company may proceed without explicit government approval in forgiving $43.5 million in arrearages from low-income and protected residential class customers.
Rhode Island Energy is now clear to enact arrearage forgiveness for an estimated 19,000 households across the state. To qualify, eligible ratepayers must be more than 90 days behind on their bills as of the end of March this year. Customers who have had service turned off as a result of arrearage can expect their service to be turned back on automatically by the utility.
“As the state of Rhode Island continues to deal with consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, and as new cost challenges have arisen associated with spikes in gas prices and inflation generally, it is reasonable and appropriate to provide some additional relief to these more vulnerable customers from aged arrearages,” wrote Rhode Island Energy in its petition to the PUC.
Customers who received utility relief via American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds can also expect their arrearages to be forgiven; 1,014 accounts with Rhode Island Energy have received ARPA funds, with 1,006 accounts having their arrearage fully satisfied.
Rhode Island Energy reported it had received $12.6 million — $8.5 for electric, $4.2 million for gas — in funding from Rhode Island Housing’s Rent Relief RI Program that was applied to customer accounts. Company officials also reported receiving an additional $4.5 million in funding that had been transferred to customer accounts, but the amount had yet to be verified by the utility.
PUC chairman Ron Gerwatowski praised the agreement reached over the utility’s sale.
“I want to express my appreciation to the attorney general, which sentiment I am sure my colleagues share, for obtaining this significant benefit to customers that will help them pay their bills,” said Gerwatowski.
PUC officials also said they received no objections to the forgiveness from the Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities (DPU) or any other public or private body.
The move was part of a settlement agreement hammered out between the utility’s parent company, Pennsylvania-based PPL Corporation, and Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha before previous owner National Grid could sell its Rhode Island operations.
The sale to PPL was announced last year, with the Federal Regulatory Commission and the DPU signing off on the deal by February. Neronha filed an appeal in Rhode Island Superior Court earlier this year, arguing the sale might result in higher rate increases or worse service.
In May, the two parties announced the settlement agreement — worth $200 million in value for ratepayers, according to Neronha — and the attorney general’s office dropped its objections to the sale.
The $43.5 million in arrearage forgiveness within 30 days of closing was part of the deal. PPL also pledged to provide $50 million in ratepayer credits, and another $2.5 million to Rhode Island Commerce’s renewable energy fund. PPL agreed to forgo any recovery of transition costs from the sale from ratepayers, up to $82 million.
The move received praise from utility justice advocates. The George Wiley Center, in a motion supporting the forgiveness, warned state regulators that some state residents faced a permanent lack of access to gas and electric services.
“Rhode Islanders face potentially unresolvable arrearages if the relief sought in this docket is not granted,” wrote George Wiley Center counsel Jennifer Wood. “It is contrary to the public interest to consign these customers to what may be a permanent bar to utility access.”
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