By: Alexander Soule |
The Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority approved a joint plan filed by Eversource Energy, United Illuminating and affiliated gas companies setting guidelines for continuing service in situations where customers are behind on their bills.
For the first time this year, the electricity and gas companies will automatically re-enroll customers for the upcoming heating season who were part of the utilities’ “arrearage forgiveness” plans last winter.
Last year, more than 17,600 households statewide were enrolled in the Eversource’s arrearage plan for electricity customers, with United Illuminating reporting 2,800 plan participants in the New Haven and Bridgeport areas where it provides electricity service. Nearly as many were enrolled in gas bill arrearage plans for Eversource’s Yankee Gas subsidiary and the Southern Connecticut Gas and the Connecticut Natural Gas affiliates of United Illuminating.
The utilities inform customers directly about the programs they offer, also taking referrals from social aid agencies who become aware of clients having financial difficulties.
In addition to keeping the lights and heat on for cash-strapped customers, the utilities use the arrearage plans to promote energy efficiency and weatherization measures customers can take to lower their future energy bills. Both companies promote the Operation Fuel nonprofit in Connecticut that covers payments for deliveries of home heating oil, with information available by calling 211.
Eversource runs a NewStart program that allows customers to eliminate portions of their overdue balance; in 2014 it forgave approximately $28.7 million in debt owed by some 49,000 customers across its territories in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
Customers in both utilities’ winter protection plans are asked to pay what they can in the colder months and work out a payment plan come May when heating bills lessen. Eversource also has a “budget balance” plan that levels out charges to help customers avoid spikes in their bills they may have trouble covering in any single month.
The Hartford-based utility also offers a medical protection plan that can protect qualified customers from any shutoff of service should they incur a serious ailment.