​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Utility  COVID-19 Resources ​

(Updated October 1, 2020)

We’re here to help utility staff address challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. Below are some FAQs intended to connect utility staff with information and resources they need during this period. 


General Information

Q: Who should I call to get information or ask questions about PSC rules and customer issues?

A: Please contact our Utility Inquiry Line: PSCConsumerAffairsMail@wisconsin.gov, or 608-266-3766. 


Q: What temporary service rule suspensions and other provisions were established to provide customer protections during the COVID-19 pandemic?

A: On March 22, 2020, Governor Evers issued Emergency Order #11, which suspended certain PSC administrative rules and provided for the Commission to adopt requirements as necessary to respond to the public health emergency. The Commission opened two dockets related to Emergency Order #11 and pursuant to the Commission’s authority in Wis. Stat. § 196.70. The dockets provide implementation instructions and direction to utility staff and stakeholders and offer the opportunity to provide comments: 

  • 5-UI-120: Investigation on the Commission’s Own Motion to Ensure Safe, Reliable and Affordable Access to Utility Services During Declared Public Health Emergency for COVID-19. An Order and Supplemental Order in this docket (PSC REF#: 386373 and PSC REF#: 390567) provided temporary customer service protections relating to disconnection, application for service, deferred payment agreements, late fees, cash deposit requirements, and credit card fee waivers. On June 26, 2020, the Commission issued a Supplemental Order (PSC REF#: 392763) that provided guidance and timelines for lifting the temporary provisions.  On July 24, 2020, the Commission issued the Order on Residential Disconnection (PSC REF#: 394202), which stayed a utilities’ authority to disconnect residential customers until September 1, 2020 and provided guidance on monthly reporting requirements and on submitting disconnection plans to the Commission. On August 28, 2020, the Commission issued a Supplemental Order to the Order on Residential Disconnection (PSC REF#: 396067), which extended the date on which a utility could disconnect or refuse residential service for nonpayment until October 1, 2020. On September 29, 2020, the Commission issued an additional Supplemental Order to the Order on Residential Disconnection (PSC REF#: 397476), which extended the date on which a utility could disconnect or refuse residential service for nonpayment until November 1, 2020. ​ On October 29, 2020, the Commission issued an additional Supplemental Order to the Order on Residential Disconnection (PSC REF#: 399114), which extended the date on which a utility could disconnect or refuse residential service for nonpayment until April 15, 2021.

  • ​5-AF-105: Accounting Treatment for Utility Costs Incurred Due To and During Declared Public Health Emergency for COVID-19.


Disconnections and Reconnections

Q: When will utilities be allowed to disconnect service to residential customers for nonpayment?

A: The first possible date for disconnection of service if a customer has not paid a bill in full and if the utility and customer have not reached an agreement on a deferred payment agreement is after April 15, 2021.  Utilities that wish to disconnect customers due to nonpayment must comply with the notice requirements (see below).

Utilities that plan to disconnect residential service for nonpayment must file a disconnection plan with the Commission by February 15, 2021.   The disconnection plan will be in a format provided by the Commission in advance of the February 15, 2021 due date. The disconnection plans will generally include:

  • The amount(s) past due that will trigger issuance of a disconnection notice
  • DPA requirements
  • The amount a customer must pay in order to avoid disconnection
  • An estimate of the number of customers that may be subject to disconnection under the plan
  • Other items relevant to the utility's plans for customer service and collections leading up to and after April 15, 2021
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Q: How does a utility file its disconnection plan with the Commission?
  

A: Commission staff are working to develop a format for utilities to report disconnection plans.  This page will be updated as more information becomes available.

For questions about the survey and disconnection plan reporting requirements in general, please contact a PSC Consumer Analyst at pscconsumeraffairsmail@wisconsin.gov​.​


 
Q: Are there other reporting requirements for all utilities, regardless of whether they intend to disconnect?
  

A: In addition to the disconnection plans for some utilities, described above, all utilities must file a quarterly report with the Commission. This quarterly report will cover both the requirements in docket 5-AF-105 (see below), and the requirements in docket 5-UI-120, including information related to credit and collections.

Furthermore, all utilities are required to submit a comprehensive plan to the Commission by January 15, 2021 as to how each utility proposes to address the financial impacts of arrears.  Instructions for filing this comprehensive plan will be forthcoming.   This page will be updated as more information becomes available.


Q: How does a utility file its monthly reports with the Commission?
  
A: To assist utilities in filing the quarterly reports, Commission staff will develop an online survey that will serve as a filing of the required information.  Further information will be communicated to utilities as the next quarterly reporting period approaches. 

For questions about the survey and disconnection plan reporting requirements in general, please contact a PSC Consumer Analyst at pscconsumeraffairsmail@wisconsin.gov​.​


Q: Are customers still eligible for a delay in disconnection if there is a medical emergency in the home?
  
A: Yes, customer notification of a medical emergency rules continue to apply. In addition, a positive COVID-19 test of a customer or a member of a customer’s household shall automatically be considered a medical emergency for the purposes of a 21-day medical extension of service (even if the customer has had an extension for another medical reason), and the 21-day extension must be extended if the customer, or a person in the household, is still under a COVID-19 quarantine at the end of the original 21-day period, as documented by a medical provider.

 
Q: Does the extension of the moratorium on disconnections have an impact on nonresidential or commercial and industrial (C&I) customers?
  
A: No, utilities may still send disconnection notices to nonresidential C&I customers beginning July 15, 2020 with the first date of disconnection of service for nonpayment on or after July 25, 2020. Utilities disconnecting or refusing nonresidential service must continue to complete quarterly reporting on credit and collections protocols using the online survey as described above.​

 
Q: Does the extension of the moratorium on disconnections have any impact on late fees?
  
A: No, utilities may issue late fees beginning July 15, 2020. See Late Fees section below.
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Q: Does the extension of the moratorium on disconnections have any impact on a municipal utility’s ability to use the tax roll process for collection purposes ?
  
A: No. A municipal utility would continue to follow the requirements set forth in Wis. Stat. § 66.0809 related to tax roll collections as it would in any year. A balance covered by a current deferred payment agreement is not considered past-due and would not be eligible for transfer to the property taxes.


 

Late Fees

Q: When can a utility resume assessing late fees?
  
A: Beginning July 15th, a utility may resume assessing late fees, but only on amounts incurred beginning on July 15 or later. The utility would not apply late fees to amounts incurred during the period from March 24, 2020 to July 14, 2020.

 
Q: What if our billing system does not allow us to select certain months or a specific time period for removing or assessing late fees?
  

A: A utility could elect to continue to waive late fees in a non-discriminatory manner and could select an end date that works best with its system or bill cycle, up until April 15, 2021. 

The billing system should not be a concern for utilities that assess a one-time late payment charge, as they would just begin assessing late fees again on use that occurred July 15 or later. 

Utilities that bill the one percent monthly late fee might choose to “turn on" late payment charges, calculate the amount of those charges that pertain to use incurred between March 24 and July 14, and place a line item credit (COVID Late Payment Fee Credit) on the bill in that amount. 

Utilities may also wish to isolate remaining amounts outstanding that were incurred between March 24 and July 14 for billing purposes, so the monthly charge is not applied to those amounts once turned on. 

Utilities using tax roll that are unable to waive late fees for this period may wish to request to waive late fees until after tax roll collections. The utility may consider whether it has the ability to prorate late fees as of a certain date, similar to when a new rate becomes effective. ​Please contact a PSC Consumer Analyst at with any pscconsumeraffairsmail@wisconsin.gov with any implementation questions.


 Q: Are utilities allowed to continue to waive late fees beyond July 15, 2020?
  
A: Utilities may elect to continue to waive late fees in a non-discriminatory manner until April 15, 2021. Previously, utilities were permitted to optionally waive late fees in a non-discriminatory manner until December 31, 2020.  In the Commission's October 29, 2020 Order, this deadline was extended to April 15, 2021.  (PSC REF#: 399114).  This does not mean the utility must waive late fees until April 15; it means April 15 is the last date a utility may waive fees. The utility should file its notification letter on the PSC's Electronic Records Filing (ERF) system. Please upload the notification letter to ERF under docket 5-UI-120, and include the date you will resume assessing late fees. ​


 

Deferred Payment Agreements (DPAs)​​  

Q: How long is a utility required to offer a DPA?
  
A: A utility must offer a DPA to any customer unable to pay their bill in full until August 15, 2020. After August 15, 2020, a utility may decline to offer a subsequent DPA, unless a residential customer has had a significant change in ability to pay since the previous, defaulted DPA was established. Pursuant to the specific requirements and procedures established in the Wisconsin Administrative Code regarding DPAs, if a residential customer has not defaulted on a DPA, the utility shall offer a DPA. In addition, as of August 15, 2020, municipal utilities may decline to offer a DPA to a customer that is a tenant.

 
Q: What if a customer won’t agree to terms of the DPA?
  
A: The utility should follow the procedures it would follow normally when the customer and utility are not able to come to an agreement. When the utility and customer cannot agree on terms, either party may ask the Commission to review the disputed issues. In this case, the utility could contact PSCConsumerAffairsMail@wisconsin.gov, and a Consumer Analyst would be assigned to its inquiry.

 
Q: How do we know if a customer is unable to pay in full or is just taking advantage of the ability to establish a DPA? This could be a concern with large industrial customers.
  
A: The utility may discuss ability to pay with a customer when establishing a DPA but must offer a DPA to customers who indicate they are unable to pay the bill in full. For customers to remain current on a DPA, they need to pay their current charges and their installment payments in full and on-time every month.


 

Credit Card Fee Waivers

Q: How long may a utility continue to waive credit card fees for its customers using the temporary tariff established under 5-UI-120?
  
A: If a utility has in effect a Commission approved, temporary tariff, the utility may continue to waive credit card processing fees until December 31, 2020. If a municipal utility would like to continue to offer this option to its customers after that date, it has two options:

  1. No rate recovery. The utility may continue to waive credit card processing fees without a tariff, but no recovery of these costs would be allowed in its O&M budget until the utility’s next rate proceeding. In this scenario, the utility would use its surplus to cover credit card processing costs.

  2. Rate case. If a utility would like to recover the costs of credit card processing fees in its O&M budget, the utility could make that request in its next rate proceeding.

 
Q: How should a utility inform the Commission that it wants to lift the temporary provisions related to the waiver of credit card convenience fees?
  
A: If a utility takes no action, the waiver of credit card convenience fees will be automatically lifted on December 31, 2020. If a utility prefers an earlier date, the utility should file its request letter on the PSC’s Electronic Records Filing (ERF) system under the docket that approved the utility’s request to waive the fees. 

  • If your utility has more than one service type and filed separate dockets for the credit card fee waiver, you must file a separate request letter under each docket. The name of the ERF submission should be:

    • “Request to Opt Out of the Temporary Service Rules Waiving Credit Card Fees in Response to COVID-19 – Water”
    • “Request to Opt Out of the Temporary Service Rules Waiving Credit Card Fees in Response to COVID-19 – Electric”
    • “Request to Opt Out of the Temporary Service Rules Waiving Credit Card Fees in Response to COVID-19 – Gas” 

  • The request letter must include the preferred effective date and an estimation of the credit card transaction fees that were waived during the authorized time period. If the utility has more than one service type (ie. water and electric), the letter must indicate which service type and fees the request pertains to.

  • By default, the waiver will be lifted for all utilities effective December 31, 2020 unless otherwise requested by the utility. For utilities whose waiver is lifted effective December 31, 2020, Commission staff will request an estimation of the credit card transaction fees that were waived during the authorized period.


 

Other Provisions in 5-UI-120​

Q: Did the Commission lift other temporary provisions?
  
A: Beginning July 31, 2020, a utility may require a cash deposit as a condition of new service. Beginning December 31, 2020, utility requests for deadline tolling and extensions must go to the full Commission.


 

Docket 5-AF-105

Q: I understand there are reporting requirements for expenditures resulting from compliance with Commission orders in docket 5-UI-120 and as otherwise required to ensure provision of safe, reliable, and affordable access to utility services during the COVID-19 pandemic. What are those requirements?
  
A: On May 14, 2020, after receiving comments from utilities the Commission defined the COVID-19-related expenses, foregone revenue, and carrying costs that are eligible for deferral and ordered utilities to report on these costs (PSC REF#: 389500). The Commission also noted that accurate documentation and reporting will be essential as utilities file future rate applications seeking recovery of deferred balances. As such, the Commission directed utilities to provide total deferral reporting by FERC or USOA account. On August 28, 2020, the Commission required such reporting on a quarterly basis for all utilities. (PSC REF#: 396068.) Further, the Commission required that all utilities submit reporting, including utilities that have no COVID-19-related expenses to report.

In order to assist utilities in completing the accounting reporting requirements for COVID-19-related costs, Commission staff developed an online Required ​5-AF-105 COVID-19 Accounting Report survey (available at least one week before each reporting period due date) that provides a standardized method of reporting for utilities. All utilities should complete the survey, even if they are reporting $0 for any COVID-19-related expenses. 

  • Next Report Due: October 15, 2020

  • Reporting Period: July 1, 2020 through September 30, 2020

  • Utilities required to submit accounting report survey:

    • All utilities, regardless of Class size. 
    • All utilities, even if a utility has no COVID-19-related expenses. 
    • Unregulated sewer utilities should not complete the survey.

​Note:
Some Class A and B utilities completed the survey for July 1 – July 30, 2020. Please resubmit July data as part of the current October survey. 


For questions about the survey and how to report on COVID-19 expenses, please contact the following Commission staff:  

Q: Do these reporting requirements apply to all utilities? How do we file the required reports?
  
All utilities must complete the 5-AF-105 COVID-19 Accounting report survey, even if they are reporting $0 COVID-19-related costs. ​ For questions about the survey and how to report on COVID-19 expenses, please contact the following Commission staff: ​ ​


Q: The 5-AF-105 document pertains to utility accounting issues. Where can I learn more about the specific issues involved in this docket?
  
A: The Commission’s website includes resources and training materials for accounting issues. Resources include the Accounting System for Utility Financial Reports for all electric, gas and water utilities, the Water Utility Reference Manual, and Water Utility Accounting FAQs.


  ​

Resources

Q: Where can I find additional information about the COVID-19 related dockets?
  
A. You can subscribe to the dockets on the Commission’s homepage:https://psc.wi.gov/Pages/Home.aspx and clicking on the “e-Subscribe” icon at the bottom of the homepage, then follow the instructions on the ERF-EZ Subscription box. To see all documents filed in the dockets, go to the Commission’s E Services Portal, and type in the docket number. If you are interested in filing comments on a docket, please see the Notice of Investigation for that docket. 


​Q: How can I receive future notifications from the Commission during the public health emergency?

A: The best way to receive timely correspondence from the Commission is to ensure the utility’s official name and contact information is up-to-date in the Commission’s Universal Name File. To check or change your utility’s information, go to http://apps.psc.wi.gov/pages/UtilityAddress.htm. Please note that only utility staff can update the address. If you do not know your utility’s log-in ID or password, please contact the Commission’s Records Management Team at PSCRecordsMail@wisconsin.gov or 608-261-8521. For utility staff who would like to receive notifications from the Commission but who are not listed as the primary contact in UNF, please contact Gillian Lilliehorn. 

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Q: How can I receive up-to-date information about COVID-19 and the state’s response?

A: You can subscribe to receive updates from the State of Wisconsin’s website dedicated to COVID-19:http://wisconsin.gov/covid-19. In addition, the Department of Health Services provides a near daily update on Wisconsin Eye at https://wiseye.org. Shortly following the briefings, the videos are posted on the DHS YouTube for viewing for those who are unable to watch live.


Q: How can our utility request resources for items such as gloves, hand sanitizer, etc.?

A: Municipal utilities should submit requests through local emergency management. All others should send requests to DMAOPS@wisconsin.gov . Please do not submit requests through both.  

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Q: ​Our utility’s essential workers have concerns about childcare options. Are there any resources available to help address these concerns?

A: The state wants to ensure essential employees can continue to report to work knowing their children are in a safe environment. To that end, Governor Evers created the Child Care for Essential Workers Taskforce. Led by the Department of Children and Families (DCF), the taskforce is working with the Early Childhood Association (WECA) and Supporting Families Together Association (SFTA) to connect essential workforce families in need of child care with locally available child care resources. 

DCF launched two new tools to help connect essential workforce families to local, safe child care. Healthcare workers and essential employees are now able to submit a request for care through the department’s updated Child Care Finder and can view up-to-date availability across the state using the department’s new​ child care map. Additional information for providers, essential workers and families can be found on the DCF COVID-19 Child Care webpage. For questions regarding this effort, please contact dcfmbcovid19@wisconsin.gov. ​

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Q: Are there any considerations to keep in mind as water customers begin to re-open buildings?

A: The Commission encourages water utilities to work with customers and notify them of the precautions necessary to ensure appropriate water quality in advance of buildings being reopened. Resources are available at the following: 


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Q: Are there other organizations with resources and information dedicated to electric, gas, and water utility concerns about operations during the public health emergency?

 

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