Alaska Legislature Approves Coronavirus Response Bill Temporarily Changing State Laws Affecting Utilities

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COVID-19 Resource Hub

Over the weekend, the Alaska Legislature approved Senate Bill 241, which enacts changes related to the Governor’s March 11 declaration of a public health disaster emergency. The temporary changes to include, but are not limited to, actions utilities and the Regulatory Commission of Alaska can take regarding residential utility service, and also impacts power cost equalization. If approved by Governor Dunleavy, certain provisions of the Act have retroactive effects. The Act extends the disaster emergency to November 15, 2020, but will end before that date if the governor issues a proclamation that the public health disaster emergency no longer exists.

The Act tolls statutory timelines for actions by the Regulatory Commission of Alaska (“RCA”) during the duration of the disaster emergency. During that time, “failure by the [RCA] to act on a filing [will] not constitute approval or dismissal by the commission.” Statutory or regulatory deadlines already extended by the commission before March 11 will not be tolled.

The Act also will prevent utilities from disconnecting residential utility services if the customer is experiencing financial hardship related to the disaster emergency, while the public health disaster emergency is in effect. Additionally, public utilities must make reasonable efforts to reconnect utility service that have been disconnected for nonpayment after March 11, 2020, if the dwelling is occupied by persons experiencing financial hardship related to the COVID-19 public health disaster emergency. Financial hardship is defined by the Act to mean a person’s liquid assets from any source is “insufficient to pay the reasonable costs of food, housing, health care, and other goods and services vital to the health and wellness of the person and the person’s spouse and dependents.”

A person seeking protection under the Act related to utility services must “provide to the public utility a signed statement, sworn under penalty of perjury, that the person is experiencing financial hardship related to the COVID-19 public health disaster emergency; and negotiate and agree to a deferred payment agreement with the utility.” The person is still obligated to pay for utility services and the utility is not prevented from recovering amounts due. The utility must offer the person a deferred payment agreement and may not impose interest or late fees.

The Act provides that the RCA and the Alaska Energy Authority “may not deny a utility otherwise eligible to receive power cost equalization payments on behalf of a utility customer power cost equalization payments for customer’s receiving protection under [the Act].” Additionally, the Act will allow for a utility certificated under Alaska Statute 42.05 to “record regulatory assets, to be recovered through future rates, for uncollectable residential utility bills and extraordinary expenses that result from [COVID-19] public health disaster emergency.” The determination as to if an extraordinary expense resulted from COVID-19 and the amortization periods are subject to RCA approval.

Stoel Rives continues to track state COVID-19 developments. Please visit our Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resource Hub for up-to-date information.

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Tina M. Grovier
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