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Tony Evers order suspends utility late fees, stops disconnections for commercial and industrial accounts
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Tony Evers order suspends utility late fees, stops disconnections for commercial and industrial accounts

From the The COVID-19 pandemic hits home: Keep up with the latest local news on the coronavirus outbreak series

Gov. Tony Evers has authorized Wisconsin utility regulators to take special actions to protect consumers during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

In an executive order Sunday, Evers suspended several administrative rules, allowing the Public Service Commission to take temporary actions to protect public welfare.

In response, PSC Chairwoman Rebecca Valcq suspended all utility disconnections — extending protection previously granted for residential customers to farm, commercial and industrial accounts. She also stopped utilities from assessing late fees and requiring deposits for reconnection.

Customers can request deferred payment plans, and water utilities can offer budget plans similar to those offered by electric and gas utilities to even out the variations in monthly bills.

“It is critically important to give people flexibility during this emergency, when paychecks might be disrupted, to keep the lights and heat on and water flowing,” Evers said in a statement accompanying the executive order. “We’re making sure that folks don’t have to make the critical choice between keeping their utilities on and paying for other essentials.”

The order will remain in effect for the duration of the public health emergency Evers declared March 12 to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

The PSC will hold a special meeting Tuesday to give utilities further directions on the emergency measures and how to account for their costs.

The order came one day before Evers announced his intention to close all nonessential businesses beginning Tuesday.

Valcq requested suspension of the rules on Friday, a day after Alliant Energy asked for permission to temporarily suspend late payment and reconnection fees.

“The current public health emergency is causing many of (Alliant’s) residential and commercial customers to bear unexpected financial hardships and presents an appropriate circumstance for the Commission to temporarily alter, amend or suspend rates,” the utility wrote in its filing.

Valcq asked those who are able to pay utility bills to continue doing so.

“We’re grateful that Wisconsin utilities are cognizant of the essential, life-sustaining nature of their services and have all taken steps by stopping disconnections of residential customers,” said Tom Content, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board. “We hope that utilities will now take further steps to help customers get through this by being flexible with payment plans and moving quickly to reconnect customers who are shut off.”

Evers declared the public health emergency on March 12 in response to a growing number of COVID-19 infections. On March 13, the PSC ordered utilities to stop disconnecting residential customers and to restore service for some 1,481 customers whose power was shut off for nonpayment.

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