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

(Updated August 27, 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. 

  • ​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 available date for disconnection of service if a customer has not paid a bill in full or if the utility and customer have not reached agreement on a payment plan is on or after October 1, 2020. After October 1, 2020, utilities may disconnect service to customers due to non-payment in compliance with notice requirements (see below.) 

At least five business days prior to implementing their disconnection plans, utilities must file a plan with the Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Affairs. The filing shall 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; and,​
  • An estimate of the number of customers that may be subject to disconnection under the plan.​
Utilities with disconnection plans on file may still issue disconnection notices 5 days or more after filing the plan. ​ However, the first available date for disconnection is October 1, 2020. If a utility has not submitted a disconnection plan, it must submit a plan at least five business days prior to beginning disconnection activity.

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Q: How does a utility file its disconnection plan with the Commission?
  
A: To assist utilities with the disconnection plan reporting requirements, Commission staff developed an online survey ​that will serve as a disconnection plan. All utilities intending to disconnect service must complete the survey. ​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 reporting requirements in docket 5-AF-105 (see below), and the disconnection plans described above, the Commission determined utilities planning to disconnect or refuse service for nonpayment must file monthly information related to credit and collection protocols, changes to disconnection plans, disconnection notices, arrears balances and customers in arrears, deferred payment agreements (DPAs) and terms, and other collection activities such as deposits. The Commission will gather this information in the same online survey used for disconnection plans. By completing that survey, a utility is meeting all disconnection plan and monthly reporting requirements of the 5-UI-120 docket. 


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 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 are required to have a disconnection plan on file and complete the monthly 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.


 

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 December 31, 2020. 

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 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 December 31, 2020. This does not mean the utility must waive late fees until December 31; it means December 31 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.


 

Customer Identification​

Q: Has the Commission lifted the temporary provisions relating to documentation of residency and identity?
  
A: Yes. As of July 15, 2020, utilities may issue disconnection notices for failure to provide documentation of residency and identity. The first available date for disconnection or refusal of service for this reason is July 25, 2020.

 
Q: What can the utility do if it has concerns about identifying customers and collecting on accounts where the applicants were not truthful on the application?
  
A: While the Commission’s Order prohibits utilities from disconnecting or refusing service for failing to provide identification information during the public health emergency, it does not prohibit the utility from asking for identification information. Upon the moratorium on disconnection being lifted, the utility may initiate disconnection of service pursuant to the procedures in Wis. Admin. Code chs. PSC 113, 134 and 185, in cases in which a customer refuses to provide the necessary application for service information. Municipal utilities that do not disconnect service may opt to use tax roll collections pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 66.0809.


 

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 the following: 

  • Class A and B utilities will provide total deferral reporting by FERC or USOA account on a monthly basis; and

  • Class C and D utilities will provide such reporting on a quarterly basis.

  • The first report for all utilities was due June 15, 2020 and covered the period of March 24, 2020 through May 31, 2020.

  • The second report for all utilities was due July 15, 2020 and covered the period of June 1, 2020 through June 30, 2020.

  • The third report was due August 15, 2020 and was due only for Class A and B utilities that are required to report monthly and covered the period of July 1, 2020 through July 31, 2020.

On August 13, 2020, after reviewing utility information filed in response to the first survey, the Commission determined all utilities, regardless of reporting class, shall file on a quarterly basis. (PSC REF#: 396068) The next required reporting will be​ as follows:

  • Reports for Class AB utilities will be due October 15. Reports will cover the period August 1 through September 30, 2020.

  • Reports for Class C and D utilities will be due October 15, 2020. Reports will cover the period July 1 through September 30, 2020.


Q: Do these reporting requirements apply to all utilities? How do we file the required reports?
  
All utilities must complete the survey, even if they are not reporting any COVID-19-related expenses. In order to assist utilities in reporting COVID-19-related costs, Commission staff developed an online COVID-19 Accounting Survey (available one week before each reporting period due date) that provides a standardized method of reporting for utilities. For questions about the survey and how to report on COVID-19 expenses and foregone revenues, please contact the following: ​


Q: How does a utility report these costs?
  
To assist utilities in reporting COVID-19-related costs, Commission staff developed an online survey, which provides utilities with a standardized method of reporting. All utilities should complete the survey, even if they are not reporting any COVID-19-related expenses. For questions about the survey and information about how to report on COVID-19 expenses, please contact the following PSC audit staff: 


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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.


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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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