Friday, November 21, 2008

National Grid’s Grand Plan Continues; Still No Action from PSC

Yes, the “Grand Plan” is still alive and well at National Grid.

Another person denied service by National Grid requested PULP’s assistance this week. She owed a little over $2,000 to National Grid for a prior account in her name for an apartment she had rented three years ago. After living in a situation where she did not need a utility account, she applied for service again at a new address and was denied service unless she pays $1,000, $1,500, or the full amount (depending on which call to National Grid you rely on). The estimated monthly bill is $179.

Under the original design of the “Grand Plan,” applicants who owed the company over $1,000 had been required to make a $1,000 down payment (“One Grand”) in order to have service restored, and those with under $1,000 in arrears were required to pay 100 percent of the debt -- regardless of the statutory limits of HEFPA. Under Public Service Law (“PSL”) §31.1 an applicant who owes for service to a prior account is entitled to service with a payment agreement that does not exceed the lesser of 50% of the amount owed or the estimated cost of three months service. Thus, the most the utility could demand consistent with the statute was approximately $537.

In addition, the deferred payment agreements (“DPAs”) must be fair, equitable and negotiable, based on the customer’s financial situation and subject to Commission oversight. A PSC Ruling from earlier this year rejected much of National Grid’s “Grand Plan,” based on the inflexibility of the 100 percent or $1000 requirements. However, the Commission left the door open to National Grid to devise similar schemes out of compliance with the statute if the applicant had, years ago, broken a deferred payment agreement. There is, however, no exeption in the statute that would bar an applicant with any arrears from the benefit of a DPA within the statutory limits. Accordingly, PULP requested rehearing because the PSC erred as a matter of law, and overlooked evidence of how the "Grand Plan" interferes with the purposes of HEFPA.

While the rehearing request was pending, National Grid began requiring 80 percent of the arrears to be paid as a down payment, with strict instructions not to divulge the arbitrary 80% rule. PULP submitted new evidence of this pattern to illustrate how the Commission was inviting continued evasion of the statutory requirements.

Now, after the 80% rule was exposed by PULP, it appears that a new version of the “Grand Plan” is back in full swing, with large sums being demanded before service can be established the applicant’s name.

PULP is still awaiting Commission action on its Petition to clarify the Grand Plan Order regarding the down payment requirements on applicants who owe arrears from a previous account at a different address. We have added this client to a growing list of aggrieved applicants who joined this proceeding after the Commission’s Order which supposedly put the issue to rest.
To PULP, the response we are waiting for from the Commission is clear – it must announce that the most that any utility can request is 50 percent of the arrears amount or three months average billing, whichever is less. HEFPA gives the Commission no power to do otherwise. It’s been eight months since the Commission rendered its decision and PULP is still waiting for the agency to act on our petition for clarification on this issue.

While the Commission cogitates, more applicants, like PULP’s new client, who are without money to somehow scrape enough together to meet the unlawful down payment demands, are denied service. It is getting awfully cold outside now for applicants to go without heat and the sun is setting awfully early to go without light. When will the Commission act on PULP’s petition and put an end to this unlawful practice, which defies the very premise of HEFPA?

Lou Manuta

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