How does the COVID-19 crisis impact my utility payments?
The Louisiana Public Service Commission (“LPSC”) issued an executive order prohibiting the disconnection of public utilities for nonpayment during the COVID-19 outbreak.
What does the LPSC’s executive order mean for individuals as well as small- and medium- sized businesses?
On March 13, 2020, the Louisiana Public Service Commission (“LPSC”) which regulates public utilities, such as electric utilities, natural gas utilities, water and sewer utilities, and certain transportation services, used its constitutional authority over such public utilities to order them not to cut off their services to individuals and businesses during the COVID-19 outbreak. You can read the full text of the March 13, 2020 Executive Order at this link.
In particular, the LPSC ordered that public utilities (electricity, natural gas, water and sewer, etc.) may not disconnect a customer for non-payment of a utility bill during the COVID-19 outbreak. A public utility may, however, disconnect a customer for public safety concerns that are unrelated to non-payment. A press release from Commissioner Foster Campbell elaborates on the March 13, 2020 Executive Order, stating, “The order only covers utilities regulated by the LPSC, including Entergy, Cleco, SWEPCO, Louisiana’s rural electric cooperatives, Atmos Energy, CenterPoint Energy, AT&T, CenturyLink and a host of other for-profit companies. It does not waive bills but merely postpones them until the emergency order is lifted.” This last point is important – the March 13, 2020 Executive Order does not waive or forgive utility bills – it only postpones action for non-payment until the order is lifted.
Customers who are unable to pay their bills due to the pandemic are encouraged to contact their utility providers to seek help in setting up a payment plan or other means for repayment of the utility bill. Entergy Louisiana, LLC customers can access this link for help in paying their electric bills. Entergy New Orleans, LLC customers can seek help paying their electric bills here. SWEPCO customers can use this link to seek help in paying their electric bills. Finally, Cleco Power customers can seek help with payment of their electric bills here. For natural gas customers, you can seek help with payment of your gas bill from Atmos Energy here and can access this link for help in paying your gas bill from CenterPoint Energy. If your utility service provider differs from these public utility providers, you can contact them directly to seek assistance in paying your utility bills.
Further, please note that some local governmental entities and non-profit boards operate public utilities, which utilities are not regulated by the LPSC and, therefore, would not be covered by the LPSC’s March 13, 2020 Executive Order. These public utilities are regulated by local officials. You should consult the local authorities about any prohibition on utility cut-offs. For Baton Rouge, you can use this link. Mayor Sharon Weston-Broome issued an Executive Order, dated March 13, 2020, pertaining to disconnection of utilities stating that the City Baton Rouge, Parish of East Baton Rouge shall abide by and be in conformity with the LPSC’s March 13, 2020 Executive Order during the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency. You can read Mayor Weston-Broome’s Executive Order here. For New Orleans, you can obtain more information regarding utility cut-offs from Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s press release at this link. The Sewerage & Water Board of New Orleans has announced it is suspending water service shut-offs beginning March 12, 2020 until the duration of Mayor Cantrell’s Declared Emergency to the COVID-19 pandemic. See more information here.
As the LPSC’s Executive Order states, the LPSC was to consider the duration of the order at its Business & Executive Session that was scheduled for March 18, 2020. That Business & Executive Session, however, was canceled as a result of Governor Edwards’ Stay-At-Home Order. The LPSC’s Executive Order goes on to provide that, should the LPSC not meet on March 18, 2020 to consider the duration of the order, then the order will remain in effect until the LPSC’s next scheduled Business & Executive Session, which is set for April 15, 2020.
The upshot of the LPSC’s Executive Order is that no LPSC-regulated public utilities may be cut off from March 13, 2020 until at least April 15, 2020 (and, perhaps beyond) for non-payment.
What else has the LPSC done to address the COVID-19 outbreak?
The LPSC also adopted another Executive Order on March 24, 2020, which provides that all parties and interested persons may now file documents, applications, and pleadings with the LPSC electronically. You can read the full text of the March 24, 2020 Executive Order at this link.
Are there any other resources that may provide useful information about inability to pay utility bills during the COVID-19 outbreak?
Yes. First, customers can always contact their local Louisiana Public Service Commissioner. Click on this LPSC Map to determine which Commissioner presides over your area. You can then contact the Commissioner’s office. You can contact Commissioner Eric Skrmetta’s Office at this link, You can contact Commissioner Craig Greene’s Office at this link. You can contact Commissioner Lambert Boissiere’s Office at this link. You can contact Commissioner Mike Francis’ Office at this link. And you can contact Commissioner Foster Campbell’s Office at this link. The Commissioners’ staffs are well-versed in utility matters and can provide valuable information.