N.H. PUC Agrees To Public Hearing On How To Resume Utility Shutoffs
New Hampshire state regulators have agreed to hold a virtual public hearing next week on plans to resume utility service disconnections.
The state recently ended its pandemic-related moratorium on shutoffs for overdue payments. Now, the Public Utilities Commission is deciding how utilities should resume the shutoffs, as well as late payment fees.
The state's utility consumer advocate, Don Kreis, called for a public emergency rulemaking process on the issue earlier this month. Kreis argued it wasn't fair for the PUC to make those decisions in private during the economic and public health crisis.
The PUC says it won't issue emergency rules, but it will take public testimony to help decide next steps. The commission says in its order that the state’s utilities and regulators worked “to reach an agreement that would provide uniformity and consistency to ratepayers during this time.”
“We also, however, appreciate the timing, the importance of the issue, and the desire of others to be heard,” the order says. “Accordingly, we believe that it would be appropriate to receive additional input regarding the agreements reached … from the [consumer advocate], other ratepayer advocates, and other interested persons in a public forum.”
The commission says the hearing will allow people to weigh in on "collection activities, payment plans, late fees, and customer disconnections," and allow the utilities to respond. The PUC, utilities and other state officials will meet immediately after the hearing to discuss next steps, including potentially "pursuing another procedural option."
Kreis calls the hearing a "ratepayer victory" in a statement and says he hopes that "ratepayers turn out in droves to explain why it would be unconscionable, in a pandemic-induced economic depression, to allow utilities to disconnect people and resume collections efforts."
The hearing will be next Tuesday, July 14, at 1:30 p.m. People can register to attend online here.