Reliable Utility Service is Critical to COVID-19 Response
April 7, 2020
The ongoing pandemic is highlighting just how important reliable utility service is to public health and the functioning of society, especially in times of crisis. Potable water distribution, for example, has drastically reduced the incidence of disease throughout history and is continuing in that role today as people frequently wash their hands and sanitize surfaces to reduce the spread of COVID-19. People are also relying heavily on telephone and broadband services as a result of widespread quarantines and social distancing measures. Put simply, every aspect of the response, whether it relates to healthcare, public safety, or workforce continuity, depends on reliable utility service.
Utilities and their regulators are taking actions to ensure utility service remains functioning during the pandemic. In West Virginia, the Public Service Commission recently held a call with the state’s major utilities to determine the status of their operations and share best practices for responding to COVID-19 issues1 and developed a Pandemic Preparedness Planning Checklist for Utilities.2 The Commission has also entered orders extending decision deadlines in all pending cases other than those subject to statutory deadlines,3 temporarily waiving requirements that utilities read meters located inside homes,4 and permitting waste haulers to temporarily limit hand-collection to waste placed in closed bags.5 At the encouragement of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and the U.S. Homeland Security Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, states subject to stay-at-home orders, including West Virginia, are classifying utility workers as essential.6
Not only are utilities and regulators acting to ensure reliable utility infrastructure and operations, but they are also recognizing the need for customers to remain in service. The financial burdens caused by COVID-19 are reducing customers’ ability to timely pay their bills, including those for utility service. In response, state regulators across the country have encouraged or ordered utilities to suspend service disconnections, even if a customer has not paid.7
The timely and effective actions taken by utilities and their regulators will ensure that utility service remains functioning and accessible. As a result, utilities will be able to continue their critical roles in the overall COVID-19 response.
1 Public Service Commission of West Virginia, PSC Holds Operational Status Update Conference with Utilities (March 25, 2020), http://www.psc.state.wv.us/press/2020/Press_20200325.pdf.
2 Public Service Commission of West Virginia, Pandemic Preparedness Planning – Checklist for Utilities and Other Businesses (March 16, 2020), http://www.psc.state.wv.us/PSCPandemicPreparednessGuide.pdf.
3 Public Service Commission General Order No. 262 (Order dated March 17, 2020), http://www.psc.state.wv.us/scripts/orders/ViewDocument.cfm?CaseActivityID=539709&Source=Docket
4 Public Service Commission General Order No. 262.1 (Order dated March 24, 2020), http://www.psc.state.wv.us/scripts/orders/ViewDocument.cfm?CaseActivityID=540516&Source=Docket
5 Public Service Commission General Order No. 262.2(Order dated March 27, 2020), http://www.psc.state.wv.us/scripts/orders/ViewDocument.cfm?CaseActivityID=540692&Source=Docket
6 David Bradley, FERC, NARUC Urge States to Designate Utility Workers ‘Essential’ During Pandemic (March 30, 2020), https://www.naturalgasintel.com/articles/121496-ferc-naruc-urge-states-to-designate-utility-workers-essential-during-pandemic.
7 National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, State Response Tracker (April 1, 2020), https://www.naruc.org/compilation-of-covid-19-news-resources/state-response-tracker/.