May 6, 2020
A group of large utilities is asking state regulators to track pandemic expenses for potential recovery later. Minnesota utilities are bracing for a stack of unpaid bills and increased costs as the pandemic continues to upend the economy.
As jobs are lost, late notices are expected to grow, which could cause rates to rise to recover those losses. The state’s smallest power providers, facing razor-thin margins, may be hurt the most.
Utilities say it’s too early to measure the impact so far, as only one bill cycle has passed since the state shutdown went into effect in late March.
“We have not yet experienced a material decline in on-time payment, but we believe such a change may occur, especially as the duration of the COVID-19 epidemic grows,” said Stephanie Hoff, spokeswoman for Fergus Falls-based Otter Tail Power, which has customers across western Minnesota and the Dakotas. “We are proactively working with customers on payment plans that fit their current situations.”
Nearly all the state’s utilities are temporarily extending the cold-weather rule to prevent disconnections for late payments for many, though not all, customers. That is keeping the lights on for those most affected by the pandemic, but at a great cost to power and gas providers.
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