Published December 1, 2020
Xcel Energy has proposed a program to forgive unpaid utility bills of Minnesota customers who are among the farthest past-due on their bills.
The proposal, initially filed as a part of Xcel’s proposals for economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, would forgive 75 percent of the unpaid bills for customers who owe Xcel between $1,000 and $4,000 on their electric and/or gas bills. Under Xcel’s proposal, customers with debt in that range must set up a plan to pay off 25 percent of their debt within a year. When they do, another 25 percent of their debt would be forgiven upfront. The remaining 50 percent will be forgiven through monthly credits over the year, as long as the customer keeps up on their payments under the plan.
CUB supports this proposal. It would provide important relief to the people who need it most during the current economic downturn. We filed comments and reply comments with the PUC jointly with the Energy CENTS Coalition in support of the proposal.
CUB and Energy CENTS also have worked with Xcel to come up with some improvements to the proposal (recommended in our comments). We suggested that customers participating in the program be eligible to prepay payment plans without penalty and that they not be disqualified from the program unless they miss two or more consecutive payments. We also suggested that the Commission require Xcel to file initial, interim, and final reports to help the Commission and stakeholders assess the effectiveness of the program. We recommend these reports include such information as:
- The outreach activities conducted to date and any plans for additional outreach.
- The number of customers directly contacted regarding enrollment, total, and by ZIP code.
- The number of customers enrolled in the Program, total, and by ZIP code.
- The Program’s current spending and a projection of total spending.
- The number of customers eligible to participate and the number whose balance exceeds 4,000.
- The average initial and remaining arrears of participating customers.
Finally, we recommended that the Commission approve Xcel’s proposal to fund the Payment Plan Proposal through an increase in the electric Low-Income Energy Discount surcharge to all customer classes. Though this would lead to an estimated bill increase of $0.51 per month for residential customers in Xcel’s service territory, we believe the potential benefits of the program outweigh the costs in this instance.
We look forward to seeing how the Payment Plan Proposal develops. We have also asked the PUC to instruct other utilities to adopt similar proposals to assist ratepayers in their service territories who are struggling to address arrearages during these challenging times.
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