COVID-19 Update

COVID-19 Update

> Click here for links to resources MEUW members may find useful in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. 


August 3, 2020
The PSC is collecting reporting and data request items from utilities on an ongoing basis. An online survey is being used to provide for efficient data collection in the Commission's 5-UI-120 docket. Reporting for the current period is to be completed by 4 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 10.

For utilities that do not plan to disconnect service:
This survey includes a data request to all Wisconsin public utilities, so please submit a response even if your utility has no plans to disconnect service for nonpayment. You will be able to indicate so earlier in the survey and submit.
 
For utilities that plan to disconnect service:
This survey will also include items that will fulfill your disconnection plan and related monthly reporting requirements/plan updates under 5-UI-120. PSC will send the link and a reminder each month.

> To review the survey tool in preparation for completing it online, click here.
> To complete the survey, click here.

July 23, 2020

The Public Service Commission (PSC) voted 2-1 to extend until September 1 the moratorium on utility disconnections for residential customers. Chair Rebecca Valcq and Commissioner Tyler Huebner voted in favor of the extension, citing ongoing concerns about the public health emergency. Commissioner Ellen Nowak dissented.

To be clear: utilities may not disconnect residential customers until September 1. Any notices of disconnect that were sent to residential customers in anticipation of beginning disconnects on July 25 are now invalid. Utillity can disconnect commercial and industrial accounts with proper notice beginning July 25. 


July 8, 2020
The PSC distributed instructions for filing Utility Disconnection Plans in accordance with the Commission's Order issued June 26. The details are available here

Municipal utility employees who have questions about PSC rules and customer issues are encouraged to call the PSC's Utility Inquiry Line at (608) 266-3766 or email PSCConsumerAffairsMail@wisconsin.gov.


June 11, 2020
At its open meeting today, the Public Service Commission (PSC) established a timeline to rollback many of the temporary provisions in response to the public health emergency that have been in place since late March.
 
Specifically, today’s action allows utilities to provide disconnect notices beginning July 15, which means disconnection for nonpayment could occur 10 days later, on or after July 25. Further, the Commissioners clarified that any household with a person who tested positive for COVID-19 is included in the medical extension guidelines in the Administrative Code. Customers who have requested and received new service but did not provide documentation of residency and identity are also subject to disconnection (with proper notice) as of July 25.
 
Also, utilities may begin requiring deposits from new customers as of July 31. Utilities may begin assessing late payment fees as of July 15, 2020, although they have the option to continue waiving late fees through December 31, 2020, without violating tariff provisions, so long as the practice is applied in a non-discriminatory way. Late fees may only be assessed on amounts incurred after July 15.
 
Further, utilities must continue to offer a deferred payment agreement (DPA) to any customer who is unable to pay through August 15. After that date, the utility may decline to offer a subsequent DPA and initiate the disconnection process. Municipal utilities may continue to offer a DPA to a customer who is a tenant at a rental dwelling unit until August 15, regardless of whether it is specified in the utility’s tariffs.
 
The PSC’s Order will be issued in the coming days. 
> The news release from the PSC announcing the decisions can be found here


May 11, 2020
The Electricity Subsector Coordinating Council (ESCC) has released an updated version of the COVID-19 Resource Guide for the electric industry. This is Version 8 of the guide, which now includes additional guidance for planning a transition from remote work back to the workplace. This version also includes a new chapter on internal and external communications. Updated and new information since Version 7 is highlighted for quick reference. The updated guide is available here.


May 8, 20200
The Governor's office released a series of publications that provide best practices and safety tips for reopening Wisconsin businesses. The guides were developed by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) in consultation with the Departments of Health Services, Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, and Tourism, as well as and industry experts and associations. The general guidelines are available here. Additional information is provided here.


May 1, 2020
The PSC held an Open Meeting on Thursday, April 30, and discussed its Notice of Investigation related to COVID-19. PSC staff had prepared a memo detailing several issues resulting from stakeholder comments in the open docket (5-UI-120). The memo, along with annotations of the Commissioners' decisions, is here. PSC staff also provided a summary of each question a utility or a customer has asked about the PSC's emergency orders; it is posted here


April 28, 2020
The Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) has released updated guidance on testing to give priority to “Persons without symptoms who are prioritized by health departments or clinicians, for any reason, including but not limited to:  public health monitoring, sentinel surveillance, or screening of other asymptomatic individuals according to state and local plans.” The full guidance is available here. MEUW has not received any report of municipalities experiencing issues with testing; if you encounter any roadblocks, please contact us.


April 27, 2020
The Electricity Subsector Coordinating Council (ESCC) has released an updated version of the COVID-19 Resource Guide for the electric industry. This is the seventh version of the resource guide and changes from the sixth version are highlighted for quick reference. The updated Guide is available here.


April 20, 2020
Governor Tony Evers outlined the criteria for Wisconsin to be able to reopen its economy in phases, including steps to make sure workers and businesses are prepared to reopen as soon as it is safe to do so. Details of the "Badger Bounce Back" plan are available here.

April 10, 2020

Utility workers now eligible for COVID-19 testing, if needed: Critical infrastructure employees, including utility workers, are now among those workers who may receive priority COVID-19 testing from a health care provider, if that employee is demonstrating symptoms of COVID-19. Common symptoms include: fever (over 100.5°), coughing, shortness of breath, headache, and body aches/tiredness.

Health care providers utilize a form that defines who is eligible to be tested, and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services has now added a check box for critical infrastructure employees under “Tier 1/Category A.” Any utility employee experiencing symptoms should mention the updated form to his/her health care providers. Testing people without symptoms does not provide assurance that those individuals will remain symptom/disease-free, so administering COVID-19 tests to workers who are asymptomatic is currently not recommended.


April 3, 2020
APPA hosted a webinar and shared insights about public utilities' potential for cost recovery of COVID-19-related expenses. The information is available here


April 1, 2020
Federal legislation passed last week in response to the coronavirus pandemic includes a provision that may provide assistance – in the form of a forgivable loan -- to certain businesses for certain eligible expenses (including utility bills) incurred during a portion of this public health emergency period. A summary of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and its impact on municipal utilities is here.

MEUW is scaling back its members-only conference calls to one per week. The next call is scheduled for Tuesday, April 7, at 10:00 a.m. If you need call-in details, please reach out to Mike Czuprynko at (608) 478-2530.

On March 27, U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette sent letters to each of the nation's governors requesting “any assistance that you can offer to ensure that all of [your state’s] critical electric infrastructure remains fully operational during the crisis.” A copy of the letter to Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers is here.


March 31, 2020
MEUW is working proactively to address the challenges of coordinating emergency mutual aid while also stopping the spread of COVID-19 among essential utility workers. Additional details, including a checklist of items that both the requesting and responding utility should consider have been added to our Website here.  


March 30, 2020
The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin is providing resources to help utility staff address issues arising from the public health emergency. Answers to frequently asked questions and links to resources are available here.  


March 27, 2020
Municipal electric utilities are adjusting their customer service operations in response to the pandemic. We are providing a template with suggested language that can be used to help explain the changes. This document also includes information about what customers should do if they expect to have difficulty paying their bills. Note that the contents of this template may not apply to all utilities, so please be certain to review it carefully and customize it to best reflect your utility’s current business practices.
>  COVID-19 Customer Messaging Template 


March 25, 2020
The Public Service Commission held an Open Meeting on Tuesday to discuss matters involving the Governor’s Emergency Order related to COVID-19. A summary of the Commission’s discussion as it relates specifically to electric utilities is provided here.

The PSC has requested comments in the two open dockets. MEUW intends to file comments on behalf of its members. We will be asking you to provide examples of (and estimates for) expenditures that have resulted from the public health emergency.

The Commissioners’ discussion made very clear that these emergency measures are not intended to grant customers a free pass to not pay their utility bill. Rather, the focus is on protecting those who cannot pay due to economic circumstances resulting from the pandemic. We are aware of certain instances where the Commission’s actions and intent may be being misinterpreted. A utility that suspects a customer is inappropriately taking advantage of the tariff changes can petition the PSC for a waiver from the new requirements.


March 24, 2020
In response to the public health crisis, MEUW is evaluating all near-term training workshops and member events. Here are the specifics:

  • The Underground Facility Locating Workshop (April 14) and the Excavation Competent Person Workshop (April 16) are postponed and will be rescheduled.
  • The “Meet & Eat” gathering in Black River Falls (April 14) is cancelled.
  • MEUW’s Leadership Academy kick-off session on the topic of collaboration (April 22) is postponed and will be rescheduled.
  • The Underground Distribution School (April 28-29) is postponed; options to reschedule are being evaluated.
  • All of the scheduled Customer Service Roundtable sessions are cancelled. In lieu of rescheduling these gatherings, members are encouraged to save the date for the 2020 Accounting and Customer Service Seminar, currently scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 22, in Wisconsin Dells.
  • Flaggers Training Courses planned in Waunakee (April 13), Richland Center (April 14) and Medford (May 5) are being evaluated and may be conducted as webinar sessions; more details will be communicated as planned are finalized.
  • MEUW’s 91st Annual Conference (May 13-15) will be rescheduled to a new date; this includes the planned golf outing. In accordance with the association’s Bylaws, the Annual Meeting will be held as scheduled on Friday, May 15, at 8:30 a.m., as a teleconference.

MEUW will communicate directly with those who have already registered for upcoming events. For workshops being postponed and rescheduled, we plan to apply credit toward future training sessions in lieu of providing refunds. 


March 22, 2020
Governor Evers has issued an emergency order that suspends utility rules related to disconnection for nonpayment, late fees, deposits and deferred payment agreements. The full details were included in a press release available here.


March 20, 2020
The State of Wisconsin has clarified certain provisions of the limits on "mass gatherings" mandated by Order of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. Specifically, the guidance now exempts "Utilities and all entities necessary for energy production, distribution, and maintenance." While the exemption applies to all facilities, activities and locations, “social distancing” continues to be strongly encouraged. The Updated Mass Gathering Ban is here


March 19, 2020
MEUW continues to diligently monitor the statewide mandates and public health guidelines surrounding the pandemic, including the restrictions put in place by our member communities. We are evaluating each of the training workshops and member programs planned through the end of April and anticipate that all events will either be canceled or postponed. More complete information will be shared during the week of March 23. We appreciate your patience and understanding.

MEUW has provided links for pandemic training, planning templates, and COVID-19 information and resources on our Website.


March 18, 2020
> Guidance on Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce (U.S. Department of Homeland Security)

MEUW will host a second members-only conference call on Friday, March 20, at 10:00 a.m. If you need call-in details, please reach out to Mike Czuprynko at (608) 478-2530.

Q. During this public health emergency, can a utility waive late fees for customers?
A. The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin replies: "The statutory and Wis. Admin. Code provisions governing the provision of utility service require the utility to bill customers in accordance with the utility’s tariff.  This means the utility must bill late fees in accordance with its tariff on file with the Commission and would not be able to waive a late fee, unless the late fee was not properly applied.  Please stay tuned to updates around additional guidance or requirements for utilities during the public health emergency."

 


March 17, 2020
Many MEUW members have inquired about what other utilities are doing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. MEUW will host a conference call on Wednesday, March 18, at 11:30 a.m. The time will be used for members to discuss actions to date and to share practices that are being implemented at their respective utilities. We will also provide details about how APPA is handling mutual aid in response to the COVID-19 crisis. 


March 16, 2020
The President’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America 


March 15, 2020
As the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve, we have decided it’s best to now postpone this week’s Watt-Hour Workshop. We will look for an alternate date to reschedule. Thanks for your understanding.


March 13, 2020
PSC Tells Wisconsin Utilities to Suspend Disconnections for Nonpayment During Public Health Emergency


March 12, 2020
As news about the coronavirus continues to dominate, some may be wondering about MEUW’s plans for upcoming events. At this time, MEUW is planning to hold training programs as scheduled. Those who are registered for training are encouraged to practice common sense – attend only if you are healthy, travel only if you feel safe, and avoid close personal contact, washing your hands thoroughly and frequently. MEUW also will have hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes available at training sessions.

For the short term, MEUW is waiving cancellation fees for training workshops and seminars. Registration fees already paid will be applied to future events. Registrants who are subject to travel restrictions or choose not to attend training are asked to notify the MEUW Office by email


March 10, 2020
Preparation is best remedy for coronavirus risk: Like everyone, MEUW is closely monitoring developments with the Novel Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. While the short-term threat remains minimal, there is certainly the potential for the health threat to escalate quickly. Being prepared is what will set you apart and limit the impact to continuity of services to your community and customers. At this time, there are no specific federal or state directives impacting the utility industry.

First and foremost, all municipal utility employees are encouraged to practice the same common-sense control measures as the public: Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, wash your hands frequently and thoroughly; avoid touching your face; and stay home when you’re sick. Please consult your local or county health departments for guidance that may be specific to your area.

MEUW members utilities also are encouraged to evaluate their continuity of operations plans (COOP), and to develop one if it doesn’t already exist. A COOP addresses all the necessary tasks to run your utility’s business in the event of an emergency situation, such as high absenteeism due to a communicable disease.

The most significant threat thus far relates to supply chain management. It is wise to develop contingency plans for critical supplies, components and infrastructure, especially because larger investor-owned entities that may require many of the same items have already begun working with distributors and manufacturers for large bulk orders.

MEUW is providing links for pandemic training, planning templates, and COVID-19 information and resources on our Website. This is a rapidly changing situation, and what is true today may be completely different tomorrow. We will continue to update the information as warranted.


> Click here for a link to updates and information from the American Public Power Association.