INDIANAPOLIS — A group of 10 Indiana utility companies is seeking permission to charge customers in an attempt to recover revenue lost during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The utility companies, including Duke Energy and Indianapolis Power & Light, filed a 36-page petition Friday with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission in which they claim the effects of the pandemic, including government orders and businesses closing or moving to remote locations, "have resulted in significantly reduced load and revenues for some utilities."
The companies seek to collect lost revenue from customers and charge customers for "bad debt expense incurred" resulting from state orders to not disconnect utilities due to nonpayment during the pandemic. Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb signed an executive order suspending disconnections until June 4.
The petition did not specify how much customers' bills could increase if regulators grant the utility companies' request.
"Many businesses have had to make difficult decisions to reduce and, in some cases, suspend their operations, which in turn has created significant financial challenges for residential customers," the petition said. "Although utilities, the State of Indiana, and the federal government have taken unprecedented actions to respond to this event ... it is unknown at this time how long the event will last, whether it will recur, or how significant the impact will be on Indiana customers and the utilities that provide them with essential services."
Kerwin Olson, executive director of Citizens Action Coalition, referred to the request as "yet another example of the utilities placing profit over people." The consumer group released a statement Monday saying the companies want to charge customers for energy they did not sell because of the pandemic.
“It is disgusting that during these unprecedented times, they are more concerned with quarterly stock reports than with the health, safety and well-being of the Hoosier communities and consumers which they serve," Olson said.
The Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor asked the IURC to investigate how utilities will deal with issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the first phase of the investigation, the OUCC asked the IURC to extend suspension of disconnections beyond June 4; waive all deposits, late fees, convenience fees and reconnection fees; expand the use of payment arrangements to assist customers; and begin documenting and accounting for assets and liabilities related to stayed disconnections, waived fees and extended payment plans.
A second phase would focus on longer-term issues related to COVID-19, including a review of the necessity of any pandemic-related cost recovery requests by utility companies.