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New Jersey, Washington keep some COVID-19 utility disconnection bans into 2021

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New Jersey, Washington keep some COVID-19 utility disconnection bans into 2021

Utility disconnection moratoriums tied to the COVID-19 pandemic will remain in place in New Jersey and Washington through the early part of 2021.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order Oct. 15 preventing gas, electric and water utilities from disconnecting service to residential customers through at least March 15, 2021. The utilities had voluntarily agreed to refrain from shutoffs through Oct. 15.

In announcing the order, Murphy pointed to the continuing economic effects of the pandemic.

"Extending the utility moratorium is the right thing to do as so many in our state struggle to pay their bills during one of the most devastating economic crises in the history of our country," Murphy said in a statement.

READ MORE: Sign up for our weekly coronavirus newsletter here, and read our latest coverage on the crisis here.

The order also bars utilities such as Exelon Corp. subsidiary Atlantic City Electric Co., FirstEnergy Corp. subsidiary Jersey Central Power & Light Co., Orange and Rockland Utilities Inc. subsidiary Rockland Electric Co., and Public Service Enterprise Group Inc. subsidiary Public Service Electric and Gas Co. from charging late fees and fees to reconnect services.

Murphy also said $15 million from a coronavirus relief fund would be put toward helping low-income households pay off utility arrearages.

A little more than a week before Murphy signed his executive order, the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission told investor-owned electric and natural gas utilities in that state to continue a moratorium on disconnections for nonpayment for residential and small commercial customers until April 30, 2021. That moratorium had been set to expire Oct. 15.

The Washington commission, which oversees Avista Corp., PacifiCorp and Puget Sound Energy Inc., among others, also directed utilities to continue waiving deposits for new customers and all late fees through Oct. 27, 2021. Utilities in the state must work with customers to establish long-term payment arrangements of up to 18 months for residential customers and 12 months for small commercial customers.

The commission held a meeting Oct. 15 to hammer out final details of the extension and other protections. An official order (UTC docket U-200281) will be issued the week of Oct. 19, commission spokesperson Emilie Brown said.

Kentucky, Pennsylvania bans coming to an end

Kentucky's moratorium (PSC case 2020-00085) on utility disconnections for nonpayment, which has been in place since March, is set to expire Oct. 20. However, the state Public Service Commission has kept in place until Dec. 31 a ban on utilities assessing late payment charges to residential customers.

The Kentucky commission also directed utilities to create plans giving residential customers six months to two years to pay arrearages accumulated for service rendered on or after March 16 but before Oct. 1. Customers will only have to pay a fixed amount each month for the term of the payment plan.

American Electric Power Co. Inc. subsidiary Kentucky Power Co., Duke Energy Corp. subsidiary Duke Energy Kentucky Inc., and PPL Corp. subsidiaries Kentucky Utilities Co. and Louisville Gas and Electric Co. are among utilities regulated by the Kentucky commission.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission is lifting its moratorium (PaPUC docket M-2020-3019244) on disconnections effective Nov. 9. But in deciding Oct. 8 to bring the moratorium enacted in March to an end, regulators set a series of requirements for utilities to follow.

That includes a requirement for utilities to contact residential and commercial customers at risk of termination and give them options for paying overdue balances and provide them with a general time range for possible termination. Further, utilities cannot cut off service for residential customers with incomes within 300% of the federal poverty income guidelines without the commission's permission.

The Pennsylvania commission regulates utilities such as DQE Holdings LLC subsidiary Duquesne Light Co.; Exelon subsidiary PECO Energy Co.; FirstEnergy subsidiaries Metropolitan Edison Co., Pennsylvania Electric Co., Pennsylvania Power Co. and West Penn Power Co.; and PPL subsidiary PPL Electric Utilities Corp.