(DENVER) – The Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has adopted changes to its electric and gas rules that will allow utilities to expand their available assistance programs for low-income customers during the winter heating season.
The PUC last week approved emergency rules increasing the allowable surcharge that utilities may assess all customers from $0.31 to $1.00 a month in order to provide targeted low-income residential bill assistance. The emergency rules are effective for the earlier of 210 days or until the PUC issues permanent rules replacing the emergency ones.
PUC rules require regulated utilities to offer Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP) programs to low-income customers who have a household income at or below 185 percent of the current federal poverty level, and who otherwise meet the eligibility criteria set forth by the Department of Human Services Low-Income Energy Assistance (LEAP) program.
PIPP programs include two important components: an affordable payment plan and a process for providing arrearage credits. PIPP programs currently are funded by a maximum monthly surcharge of $0.31 on all customer bills.
Information provided to the PUC by utilities and low-income experts this fall indicated that most utilities are experiencing significant increases in both the number of residential customers in arrears and the amount of active arrears due to the COVID-19 economic challenges. And applications for low-income energy assistance have increased this heating season by 15-25 percent.
Two Colorado utilities, Black Hills Colorado Electric and Colorado Natural Gas, are at the current $0.31 per month maximum funding fee and cannot serve all the customers who would otherwise qualify for low-income energy assistance.
“We find that increasing the maximum allowed impact on residential rates to $1.00 should provide sufficient funding to expand PIPP programs to customers on program waitlists and some customers who have recently become eligible for the programs or who will become eligible this heating season,” the PUC said in its decision adopting emergency rules.
The PUC encouraged electric and gas utilities that currently are unable to serve all low-income customers who have qualified through the LEAP application under their existing fee surcharge to promptly file a revised advice letter and tariff with an increased surcharge of up to $1.00 to serve as many low-income customers as possible.
It also encouraged utilities to consider providing additional customer outreach to inform low-income customers who may not be familiar with the utility’s PIPP program of the program’s existence.
The Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) serves the public interest by effectively regulating utilities and facilities so that the people of Colorado receive safe, reliable, and reasonably-priced services consistent with the economic, environmental and social values of our state.
The Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) is dedicated to preserving the integrity of the marketplace and is committed to promoting a fair and competitive business environment in Colorado. Consumer protection is our mission. Visit www.dora.colorado.gov for more information or call 303-894-7855/toll free 1-800-886-7675.