With the COVID-19 pandemic closing businesses and driving unemployment to record levels, past due payments to Virginia utilities topped $184 million as of June 30 this summer.
The total, provided in a letter from the State Corporation Commission to House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, and Senate President Pro Tempore Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, had been requested by 58 lawmakers from both sides of the aisle in early June.
At that time legislators expressed interest in crafting legislation to address utility disconnections amid an economic crisis but said their efforts had been “hindered … by insufficient data on the extent of the problem.”
In the immediate aftermath of Gov. Ralph Northam’s declaration of a state of emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic on March 12, many Virginia utilities voluntarily stopped disconnecting water, electric, sewer or gas service for nonpayment of bills. On March 16, the SCC issued a moratorium on such disconnections, a ban that was subsequently extended to June 15 and then Aug. 31.
But regulators have been wary of how long the moratorium can remain in place. In May, the SCC said the current situation was “not sustainable on an unlimited basis.” The commission’s June order extending the ban through Aug. 31 “emphasize[d] that utility regulation alone cannot adequately address what is a much broader socioeconomic catastrophe.”
The more than $184 million in past due payments reported to Filler-Corn and Lucas Friday only constitutes a portion of the arrearages state utilities actually face. A month and a half has passed since the information was collected, and the total provided by the SCC includes information from only 12 of Virginia’s 24 electric and gas utilities, including its two largest electric companies, Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power.
These two companies also report the largest past due payment totals, amounting to $116.6 million and $20.8 million, respectively.
The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.