Thought Leadership

PUCT Staff Clarifies COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program

Client Updates

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Public Utility Commission of Texas (the “PUCT” or “Commission”) issued a series of orders on March 26, 2020 to lessen economic impacts on residential customers. These orders will affect transmission and distribution utilities (“TDUs”) and retail electric providers (“REPs”) operating in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (“ERCOT”) as well as customers who will be paying the new charge. As part of Project No. 50664, the Commission issued orders affecting residential customers that (1) suspended rules pertaining to water and electricity disconnections for nonpayment; and (2) created a funding mechanism by which TDUs and REPs operating in ERCOT can recover some of the costs associated with continuing service to residential customers facing financial hardship during the COVID-19 emergency. The COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program (“COVID-19 ERP”) will allow for REPs and TDUs to continue to provide service to customers who qualify for the program and is designed to stabilize and “ensure the long-term viability” of the ERCOT market.

The COVID-19 ERP provides that REPs will suspend disconnections for non-payment for eligible residential customers, for up to six months. The program is being funded with a new rate rider to be implemented by the TDUs of $0.33 per megawatt hour (a 33¢ increase in a monthly bill for a household that uses 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per month). The order specifies that the COVID-19 ERP is temporary and may require further review and modifications.

On Wednesday April 1, 2020, the PUCT staff held a WebEx meeting with market participants to answer previously submitted questions regarding the implementation of the COVID-19 ERP. During the meeting, PUCT staff clarified several issues about the enrollment of customers in the program, including the following.

  • The individuals currently on the official list of low-income eligible customers are automatically enrolled in the COVID-19 ERP. That list is maintained by Solix, the Low-Income List Administrator, and Solix will provide an updated list to REPs on a weekly basis.

  • Other customers who wish to enroll in the COVID-19 ERP must contact Solix and demonstrate that they are unemployed.  Qualifying documentation consists of any letter or other documentation from the Texas Workforce Commission (“TWC”) confirming a customer’s approval to receive unemployment benefits.

  • Customers who do not immediately have the required documents, may enroll in the COVID-19 ERP provisionally but must provide Solix with the required TWC documentation within thirty (30) days to maintain enrollment.

  • Enrollment in the COVID-19 ERP is determined by household, and therefore eligible customers do not have to be named on the REP account (for example if one spouse is named on the account but the other is recently unemployed because of COVID-19, the spouse that is not named on the account can qualify the household for enrollment in the COVID-19 ERP).

  • If an enrolled customer moves, that customer must re-enroll in the COVID-19 ERP.

  • There is no deadline for customers to enroll in the COVID-19 ERP.  Once enrolled, customers can participate for the duration of the program (currently planned for six months).

  • REPs must offer deferred payment plans (“DPPs”) to all customers, regardless of enrollment in the COVID-19 ERP, pursuant to the Commission’s March 26, 2020 Order and 16 Tex. Admin. Code 26 § 25.480(j)(1)(B).

  • Customers enrolled in the COVID-19 ERP are not required to accept a DPP. 

  • Only customers on a DPP can be subject to a switch-hold, which prevents a customer from changing REPs during the pendency of the DPP.

  • For any residential customer that indicates an inability to pay their bill, the best practice is for a REP to inform the customer of both the DPP option and the COVID-19 ERP.

Overall, PUCT staff encouraged REPs to follow the spirit of the Commission’s order to avoid disconnecting customers eligible for the COVID-19 ERP.   Before disconnecting customers, REPs should determine whether the customer or household is enrolled in the COVID-19 ERP.  Commission staff stated that they would be closely monitoring REPs implementation of the program.

Regarding reimbursements and the COVID-19 ERP rider, Commission staff clarified the following:

  • The COVID-19 ERP rider is non-bypassable.

  • A REP should post reimbursement adjustments to an account when the REP submits the reimbursement request to the TDU.

  • REPs may seek recovery of any eligible customer bills that are not fully reimbursed through the COVID-19 ERP from the customer at a later date.

    As the COVID-19 ERP continues, we anticipate that the Commission and its staff will provide further clarification of the COVID-19 ERP details. 



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