Investor-owned utilities plans for customers during the pandemic | Prairie Public Broadcasting

Investor-owned utilities plans for customers during the pandemic

Mar 18, 2020

Credit Dave Thompson

The chairman of the North Dakota Public Service Commission said representatives of the three investor-owned utility companies – Xcel, MDU and Otter Tail – have been communicating with the Commission on their plans for their customers during the current coronavirus pandemic, and to keep the lights on.

"I think we have a good plan going forward to ensure reliable service continues," said PSC Chairman Brian Kroshus.

Kroshus said the plans include easing of shut-offs for select individuals, that may find themselves in that situation.

"They're very cognizant of not adding one more uncertainty at the current time," Kroshus said.

And Kroshus said the utilities are also waiving service fees for any potential late payments thaat may come as a result of people focusing on otehr things.

MDU is suspending any disconnects for non-payment of utility fees for the time being, because of the potential issues surrounding the coronavirus. And MDU spokesman Mark Hanson said that includes both residential and business customers.

"We have also filed with our regulatory commissions across all our states for a waiver that would allow us to waive those late fees," Hanson said.

Hanson said customers who are facing issues because of COVID-19 should contact the customer service center, if they are having trouble with their payments.

"We can develop a payment plan with them," Hanson said. "Whether they can pay a little bit each month, or they feel like they have to wait a month, it will be great for them to work it out with our customer service reps. And we know that they can be assured they will not have their service cut off right now."

Hanson said there will also be some changes in how the utility handles service calls. He said when a person makes the call, the service representative may be asking a few questions.

"Is there anyone quarantined or affected in that house," Hanson said. "That may lead our service tech to address the problem in a different manner."

Hanson said they will do their "social distancing" with those customers while they take care of business.

"Our employees have their own protocol on how they will wash and disinfect after," Hanson said.

Kroshus said he doesn’t see the need for the PSC to adopt any temporary rules to deal with the situation.

"I like the approach we're currently taking, which is voluntary compliance," Kroshus said. "And it's being driven by the utilities themselves. This is a good example of the partnerships we have with the IOUs."