The Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission (RIPUC) today voted to adopt emergency regulations for the restoration of services to LIHEAP-eligible gas and electric utility customers. This has become a yearly ritual whereby utility customers and activists from the George Wiley Center converge on RIPUC in Warwick to show support for a temporary solution to an ongoing problem. Under the emergency regulations customers can now prevent having their utilities disconnected or restore disconnected services by paying 10 percent of the amount owed. Under normal circumstances customers would have to come up with 25 percent.
The emergency regulations will be in effect for one month, but under the changes made to the Henry Shelton Act by the General Assembly last session, the emergency regulations cannot be implemented until approved and signed off on by the governor. This could add days towards implementation of the vote.
As the RIPUC board, made up of board members Marion Gold, Herbert F DeSimone Jr and board chair Margaret Curran deliberated and discussed the agenda, members of the audience, who were not allowed to speak at the meeting, urged the board to act on a more permanent solution to the shut offs. As Camilo Vivieros of the George Wiley Center noted, “People associate [shut offs] with the winter but we all know that most turnoffs happen in the summertime.”
Because those in attendance were vocal in pushing the RIPUC board towards doing more to address the problme, Chair Curran became very angry, saying “Please be quiet while we discuss this” and “If you do not stop talking we cannot get through this agenda,” prompting one member of the public to counter, “”Your agenda, not ours.”
Ultimately the board decided to adopt the emergency regulations and institute a 10 percent fee to reconnect service or prevent disconnections. They discussed a 15 percent fee, as was done last year, but DeSimone seemed to think there was little difference between 10 and 15 percent, (demonstrating that he had no understanding of the effect of paying $200 instead of $300 dollars to restore utility services when poor.) Public commentary could have educated DeSimone on this issue, but public commentary was not allowed.
Not allowing the public to speak even applied to State Representative Anastasia Williams, who asked to address the board and was denied. After the RIPUC concluded Williams called for changes in the way the RIPUC conducts its business and also called for changes to the make up of the board, to perhaps include a low wage ratepayer or a person of color.
The RIPUC declined to act on the George Wiley Center’s request “to institute a year-round emergency regulation allowing utility consumers to have service restored after termination with a ten percent down payment of the total amount owed,” as is now possible under revisions made to the Henry Shelton Act as passed by the General Assembly last session. RIPUC decided to not take up that request until more research has been done and evidence gathered.
What passed at the RIPUC on Monday is a band-aid, a temporary solution that won’t even get some Rhode Islanders through the first week of November. In a statement of Facebook, Camilo Vivieros of the the George Wiley Center was more positive, saying, that “while we had asked for a year-round regulation, we are glad that many will be able to find relief from being shut off, and we will continue to push for more lasting and humane solutions to the utility shut-off crisis in Rhode Island. Please spread the word to anyone who is currently without utility service, who may be able to benefit from these emergency regulations.”
If you need help paying your utility bills or facing a shut-off, contact the George Wiley Center:
From Luly E. Massaro, Commission Clerk at the RI Public Utilities Commission:
At yesterday’s open meeting the PUC adopted emergency termination regulations in Docket No. 1725. The regulations was filed with the Secretary of State’s office this morning. The regulations are amended to reflect the addition of Part V, Section 4(G), as underlined on pages 37-38 and can be viewed under this link Emergency Termination Regulations Governing the Termination of Residential Electric, Gas and Water Utility Service, effective November 1, 2016 through December 4, 2016.”]