Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Utility Service (Electric, Gas, Water)

Last Updated On: 4/8/2020 6:44:04 PM

I’ve been laid off. I have no income, and I can’t pay my electric bill. Has West Virginia stopped utility companies from cutting off service during the coronavirus emergency?

No, at least not yet. On March 17, 2020, The Public Service Commission (PSC) released General Order 262 which “urged” utility companies to suspend shutoffs. But the PSC has not issued an order requiring utility companies to stop doing shutoffs. On March 25, 2020, PSC held a conference call with utility companies in which they reported the utility companies had agreed not to disconnect customers.

Included on this call were representatives of AEP (APCo and WPCo), First Energy (Mon Power and Potomac Edison), Mountaineer Gas, Hope Gas, West Virginia American Water, AT&T, Frontier West Virginia, Suddenlink and cable providers.

For now the PSC is probably “monitoring” what is happening. If most utility companies are suspending shutoffs, the PSC won’t get many complaints about shutoffs. If the PSC receives a lot of complaints about shutoffs, the PSC may decide to take stronger steps. 

Are utility companies cooperating with the PSC “request” that they suspend cutoffs during the coronavirus emergency?

Yes. Many of the large utility companies serving parts of West Virginia have announced they will not cut off service unless:

  • the customer requested the account be closed, or
  • there is a danger to the customer if the utility service remains on.

Large utility companies suspending shutoffs include:

  • West Virginia American Water Company
  • American Electric Power Company,
  • First Energy (parent company of Mon Power and Potomac Edison),
  • Dominion Energy, and
  • Mountaineer Gas. 

In addition, most of the utility companies are waiving “late fees” or “non-payment fees” during the emergency. 

You didn’t list my utility company as one that has stopped doing cutoffs. Does that mean my utility company IS still doing cutoffs?

No. There are many, many utilities companies in West Virginia, big and small. We mentioned only a few of them, the biggest ones. We believe most, if not all, utility companies in the state are suspending cutoffs during the emergency.

If I can’t pay my bill, what should I do?

Contact your utility company. Tell them the situation. Tell them why you have no income and can’t pay your bill. Ask if they are doing cutoffs during the emergency.

In this kind of situation you are always better off to contact the utility company first and give them information. Don’t try to “hide” from them or just ignore the bills. Reach out and explain your situation. If your inability to pay the bill is because of coronavirus, the company will be a lot more likely work with you. As we noted earlier, most utility companies in fact ARE voluntarily suspending cutoffs during this emergency. 

I tried all of this, but my utility company says they’re going to shut off my services anyway. What do I do?

The most important step to is contact the WV Public Service Commission . The toll-free number is 1-800-642-8544. The PSC may not know that some utility companies are in fact still threatening people with shutoffs. If you don’t tell the PSC, the PSC won’t know.

When you call, ask the staff to help you with the shutoff. If you can’t pay because of the coronavirus emergency, explain that to the PSC call staff. PSC staff sometimes can talk to the utility and persuade them not to do a shutoff if there are unusual or emergency circumstances. Loss of income due to coronavirus certainly should be justification to stop the shutoff.

The PSC Consumer Complaint information page has a lot more information about the process of making a complaint, either an informal one by just making a call, or a formal complaint in writing. You don’t have to file a formal written “complaint” to get help from the PSC staff. After talking with the staff you can decide whether you want to file a formal written complaint. The Legal Aid web site has more information about dealing with utility shutoffs during “normal” times

Does that mean I won’t ever have to pay the bill at all?

No. At some point after the coronavirus emergency you will have to pay the cost of your utility service.

During the time that you have no income because of the coronavirus situation, you are asking the utility company to “be reasonable” and not cut you off for something that isn’t your fault.

When you do start getting income again then the utility company will ask you to “be reasonable.” It will want you to make some payment or enter a payment plan to catch up the back amount. 

What if the utility company eventually wants me to pay more than I can afford?

Contact the WV Public Service Commission and ask them to help with the disagreement. The toll-free number is 1-800-642-8544. The PSC Consumer Complaint information page, has a lot more information about that process. You don’t have to file a formal written “complaint” to get help from the PSC staff.

The Legal Aid web site has more information about dealing with utility shutoffs during “normal” times.

This is general legal information. For guidance about your situation, talk to a lawyer.