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Utilities Keep Their Cool, At What Cost?

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Nevelyn Black's picture
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Nevelyn Black is an independent writer with a background in broadcast and a keen interest in renewable energy.  In the last few years, she transitioned from celebrity interviews and film shoots...

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From northern Montana to southern California, some 56 million people are under excessive heat warnings or heat advisories.  Utilities are asking customers to conserve energy as they battle high temperatures.  Sacramento, California, saw its hottest August day on record Sunday, of 112 degrees. Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Seattle, Phoenix and Salt Lake City all broke daily temperature records, some as high as 115 degrees. California Independent System Operator (ISO) Chair Steve Berberich said "it is near certain" that utilities will have to cut off power to "millions" of people this week.  However, Gov. Gavin Newsom is investigating that action, saying, “Residents, communities and other governmental organizations did not receive sufficient warning that these de-energizations could occur. Collectively, energy regulators failed to anticipate this event and to take necessary actions to ensure reliable power to Californians. This cannot stand.” High temperatures present various challenges, especially during a pandemic, but record heat hits low-income families the hardest.  Energy bills in much of America “will be much, much higher,” said Cisco DeVries, a former White House aide and the CEO of OhmConnect, a company that helps households manage power demand. “With sheltering in place, people aren’t leaving their homes to seek air-conditioned refuge elsewhere, so they will be heavily reliant on their units to cool down their homes.”  Many are hard-pressed to make their monthly payments for utilities: according to government data, more than one in three US households struggle to pay their utility bills.  So the suspended disconnection moratorium is helping communities but how much is it hurting utilities? 

As of June 30, Dominion Energy customers’ unpaid electricity bills from a state-ordered moratorium on disconnections totaled $116.6 million.  Despite that figure,  if it gets a green light from regulators, Dominion spokesman Rayhan Daudani says the utility is ready to extend the moratorium on disconnections to October.  Daudani also said Dominion believes its extended payment plans and EnergyShare program can help both the company and its customers cope into the autumn. They have added another $1 million to the EnergyShare program.  The year-round assistance program helps qualified customers pay energy bills for heating and/or cooling and provides free home energy assessments and energy efficiency upgrades.    

Other utilities serving Hampton Roads with past due bills include Virginia Gas, with a total of $6.9 million; Columbia Gas of Virginia, $6.4 million; A&N Electric Cooperative, $791,619 and Prince George Electric Cooperative, $288,411.  FirstEnergy's Pennsylvania utilities are encouraging customers to set up payment plans and bill assistance to avoid unmanageable balances.  Duke Energy will gradually return to standard business practices and starting in September, customers will have additional time to pay outstanding balances, set up a flexible payment plan with no down payment required and have late fees waived.  

While you continue to provide reliable energy to customers, what is your utility doing to beat the heat and offset pandemic-related losses?  

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Aug 18, 2020

Another important point-- this situation is actually being helped by the fact that COVID is keeping much of the commercial power demand down and so there is less total demand to contend with. This could have been even worse for the supply/demand curve (or, more accurately, if/when this happens again next year it will be worse)

Alison Alvarez's picture
Alison Alvarez on Aug 24, 2020

Glad to see companies building workable solutions. Targeted outreach to customers in need of a lifeline (via enrollment in assistance programs, etc) is one very effective key to collecting payments and staying robust. Based on our analysis of uncollected debt across the industry, the outstanding $116M is not surprising at all. Great post!

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