Long Island ratepayers who fell behind on their electric bills because of the COVID-19 pandemic may be eligible for a new one-time credit of up to $2,000 under a state-devised program that LIPA plans to begin next month.
The new program, which applies to all customers who haven’t previously received arrears forgiveness in the first round of credits last year, will fund around $42 million in bill credits starting next month, about $33 million of which LIPA said will come from existing reserves.
The credits will apply to arrears had accrued up through May 1, 2022. Past-due bills that have accrued after that date “are still owed,” LIPA said.
LIPA in a statement Friday said the plan would help about 44,000 residential customers across the service territory, over and above the roughly 11,000 low-income customers already helped with $25 million in arrears forgiveness last year, about $9.8 million of which was state-funded. A similar program for small commercial customers also will be available in 2023, LIPA said.
WHAT TO KNOW
- LIPA will provide a new one-time credit of up to $2,000 to eligible ratepayers who fell behind on their electric bills because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The new program will fund about $42 million in bill credits, about $33 million of which LIPA said will come from existing reserves.
- The credits will apply to arrears accrued up through May 1, 2022 and will post on customers bills starting next month.
Ratepayers who are eligible don’t even need to apply for the credits, LIPA said, adding that credits will post on customers bills starting next month.
LIPA said the program also includes a shut-off moratorium for “all residential customers until at least March 1, 2023 to avert potential service terminations for the 44,000 residential customers that will receive bill credits.” In addition, ratepayers who were shut off due to a COVID-19-related issue will have power restored through a moratorium period through June 30, LIPA said.
“It’s a great program to help people who have gotten behind on their bills,” LIPA chief Tom Falcone told Newsday Friday morning.
LIPA disclosed the program Friday, a day after the state Public Service Commission approved a similar forgiveness program for regulated utilities across the rest of the state. LIPA, which does not come under the PSC’s jurisdiction, isn’t obligated to follow its recommendations.
In an unusual rebuke, two PSC commissioners took sharp aim at LIPA and grid manager PSEG Long Island over concerns that the LIPA program could be delayed or weakened because it was handled outside the PSC process.
“I’m troubled,” said PSC commissioner Diane Burman, a former Long Islander. “This is not the first time, and it continues to happen with PSEG Long Island that they wait and then pick and choose what they are and aren’t going to do and it gets lost after the fact, and for me it’s important enough that I’m disappointed.”
Falcone noted that LIPA participated in the PSC’s Energy Affordability Policy Working Group that devised the arrears forgiveness programs, and has adopted all seven recommendations of the group.
“There’s nothing we did differently,” he said. “We even did it on the same timeline.”
Commissioner Tracey Edwards also took aim at LIPA and PSEG, saying their not coming under the jurisdiction of the PSC led to questions about how and when the utility will roll out its program.
“If there’s anyone that is hesitant, if there’s anyone that doesn’t understand the need for this commission to regulate utilities, they should look no further than what did not occur with LIPA and PSEG,” she said, “and how we are now waiting for them to decide to take action. Look no further to why we need this commission to regulate utilities. Look no further.”
Burman noted that while LIPA and PSEG had indicated their intent to implement a bill-credit program that would follow “the same general parameters” as state-regulated utilities, she added, “I find it incredulous that they are waiting until after we act to start” the program.
“They should have already started the proceeding,” she said. “They could have made sure they were aligning themselves so they’d be ready to go in real time right after we decided what we were doing.”
Falcone, calling the comments “misinformed,” said all LIPA/PSEG information for the working group was “uploaded and available to anybody in the working group.” LIPA’s information wasn’t in a final paper for Thursday’s PSC vote because LIPA isn’t regulated by the PSC, he said.
LIPA, Falcone noted, is implementing its program without the approval of the LIPA board, which has been informed about it, because the utility has already set aside most of the reserves for the latest arrears forgiveness program. All LIPA reserves are paid for by LIPA customers, and LIPA may have to increase reserves in future budgets to pay the roughly $9 million not covered by 2023 reserves, Falcone said.
Burman said she had also hoped the Long Island utility would have provided an “apples to apples comparison” of its plan so that other state utilities could have examined and possibly replicated it.
“There’s no reason it could not have been done simultaneously,” she said, “and that leaves me frustrated.”