On March 26th, the Public Utility Commission of Texas responded to the governor’s declaration of emergency with a plan to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on Texas utility customers who are experiencing genuine economic hardship as a result of the pandemic.
These efforts are intended to help those Texans in genuine financial distress as a result of COVID-19, when their utility bills will literally break their family budget. Because the cost of these temporary measures will ultimately be borne by rate payers (including customers with suspended disconnects whose final balances are not totally offset by the COVID-19 surcharge on actively paying customers), they should be reserved for those in dire circumstances.
Under a new program called the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Plan, the PUC has ordered Retail Electric Providers (REPs) in areas of the state open to competition to:
If you are a residential electricity customer in areas of Texas open to retail competition who qualifies for unemployment benefits and is in genuinely dire economic straits as a result of COVID-19, you can contact the state’s Low Income List Administrator (LILA) at 866-454-8387 to request enrollment. Their call center is operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
After you have called the LILA and shared proof of your unemployment status and essential information with them (including your name, electricity service address and, preferably, your electricity account number with your REP), you will be provisionally added to the list and your REP will be notified within a week to not disconnect your power if you are unable to pay the bill or enter into a deferred payment plan with the REP. [NOTE: If your payment is due in the next 10 days, you should contact your REP right away.]
Within 30 days of that call, you’ll need to provide documentation of your qualification for unemployment benefits from the Texas Workforce Commission to the LILA so that you can be officially added to the lists.
Per the PUC order, Retail Electric Providers cannot disconnect electricity for up to six months for customers who have been added to the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program list because they are unable to pay the bill or enter into a deferred payment plan with the REP.
In accordance with your contract, REPs will generate your bill, and you should pay the amount you are able. Your REP will then request assistance with your bill from the Relief Program. If the REP receives assistance from the Relief Program, then your bill will be adjusted by that amount.
Operating largely outside of the PUC’s jurisdiction, electric co-ops and municipal utilities, like those in Austin and San Antonio, are taking measures they see fit to address the financial impact of the COVID-19 crisis on their customers. If you are one of their customers, you are encouraged to contact them with your questions and concerns.
Electricity still costs money to generate and, along with water, costs money to deliver to your home. If you are a customer protected from disconnection by participation in the Relief Program, whatever costs you are unable to cover will be borne in part by a combination of other paying customers through a new monthly fee, losses absorbed by your retail electric provider, and, eventually you in a deferred payment plan to recover any remaining amounts.