Published February 9, 2024
On February 8, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) considered our request to implement a moratorium on wintertime disconnections for CenterPoint customers. Although the PUC did not approve the moratorium, it established a procedural framework for CUB, the Energy CENTS Coalition, and other stakeholders to continue bringing attention to harmful utility policies and practices. We remain concerned about the number of CenterPoint customers who are disconnected during the winter, along with several other troubling practices and trends. We will continue to monitor utility data and raise issues with the PUC in future filings.
The PUC approved our request for two annual comment periods focused on analyzing trends in utility data. These comment periods will provide stakeholders with an opportunity to raise concerns about increasing disconnections, unreasonable payment obligations, and consumer protection issues.
Utilities have historically tracked the number of service disconnections carried out each month. Now, they must also report how many disconnections and/or reconnections are completed remotely. Several utilities have started utilizing smart meters to disconnect and/or reconnect customers without in-person visits. Although this allows customers to resume service much faster than before, it could also make it easier for utilities to shut off utility service. As utility practices change, additional data is necessary to understand the full scope of customer impacts. We will continue to monitor these changes.
Lastly, the PUC agreed to update reporting requirements to create consistency in the data collected by utilities. Several of the concerns we raised in this docket related to utilities’ practices during the “Cold Weather Rule” which begins in October and lasts through April. During these months, utilities are prohibited from disconnecting customers’ heating service (or must reconnect service) if they enter into a payment plan and stay current on their payments. Previously, several utilities “reset” disconnection data at the beginning of the Cold Weather Rule. This made it impossible to know how many customers remained without service going into the winter months. The PUC is now requiring utilities to report on how many customers remain disconnected going into winter. It is our hope that this information will assist the utilities and the PUC in making informed decisions about directing additional outreach and resources to those customers most in need of assistance.
Ultimately, the actions taken today will allow us to continue compiling information on utility trends and practices, and to present those findings to the PUC on a regular basis. While we are disappointed that several of our recommendations were not adopted in this proceeding, we see these changes as an incremental step towards increasing transparency into utility practices. We will continue to advocate on behalf of Minnesotans in upcoming dockets and will push for stronger consumer protections and utility accountability.