Utilities are coping with a rising number of delinquent bills, and the state Public Service Commission said Wednesday it is seeking ways to make sure the delinquencies don't affect the companies' credit ratings and ability to raise capital. "This is very important for us to get in front of this issue," said PSC Chairman Garry Brown.Unpaid Bills Chill Utilities: PSC Seeks Ways to Ensure Delinquent Accounts Don't Sink Credit Ratings.
Senior advisory staff said during the agency's monthly meeting in Albany that rising electricity and natural gas costs, combined with the economic deep-freeze, are making it more difficult than normal for people to pay their utility bills.That means the utilities are bringing in less revenue than usual, which could hurt their credit ratings and make it more difficult to access the capital markets.
National Grid, the dominant utility in the Capital Region, had a 23 percent jump in the number of accounts at least 60 days in arrears during the first six months of the year, said company spokesman Patrick Stella. "We have seen a rise in people that are falling behind," he said.
Stella could not say how the delinquencies were affecting the company's balance sheet.
In today's environment of very low interest rates, even if a bond rating were to slip, and thus raising the cost of new capital, utilities would only pay a higher rate with respect to new bonds, it would not affect the cost of previously is sued bonds. In the current financial climate, few new bonds are being issued, and interest rates may be low when they are. Indeed, bonds issued years ago at even higher rates may be callable, that the utility may be able to issue new bonds at lower interest rates, despite a slightly lower bond rating.
New York's distribution utilities are not at serious financial risk.
Utilities have the opportunity to file for a change in rates if their revenues are deemed too low, and the Commission has the power to set temporary rates, which are required to be cufficient provide a return on invested capital of at least 5% , under section 114 of the Public Service Law.
It is conceivable that utility bond ratings could slip if their uncollectible accounts balloon. Distribution utilities are still reliable cash cows, however, because they provide essential services to the public, and their bonds should remain solid investments even in hard times, provided they have not squandered too much of their revenue streams and capital in unfruitful holding company affiliates.
New York utility customers are at heightened risk of loss of service because they cannot afford to pay what the utility demands.
- See PSC Policies Foster Increase in Utility Service Terminations as a Collection Tactic
- See No Electricity: Middletown Residents in Critical Condition from Lantern Fire
- See Candle Fires: A Symptom of "Rolling Blackouts" Affecting Low-Income Households.
- reform utility gas and electricity purchasing practices to lessen reliance on short term markets
- stop its deliberate policy to introduce price volatility that many family budgets cannot withstand
- adopt low-income rates that are affordable to the poor
- reform harsh and unreasonable collection practices that make it impossible for customers with real economic vulnerability to obtain or keep service
- create performance metrics and disincentives to the use of service termination as a utility collection tactic.