SCC denies Northam’s request to again extend utility disconnection ban

The State Corporation Commission
The State Corporation Commission regulates Virginia electric utilities. (Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

The State Corporation Commission on Thursday denied a request by Gov. Ralph Northam to extend the utility disconnection moratorium to Dec. 1, citing a prior order that explicitly said the body “will not extend the moratorium beyond October 5, 2020.”

The decision came hours after Northam sent a letter to the commission asking it for yet another extension “to give the legislature the time they need to finish their work and address this issue.” 

Budget proposals put forward by both the House and the Senate include a provision that would extend the ban to 60 days after the end of Virginia’s state of emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic or until “the prohibition does not need to be in place.” The House has passed its budget and the Senate was actively debating its version of the proposal as the SCC’s reply came. 

Lawmakers still have to reconcile the two plans.

Northam’s letter said his request was intended “to ensure there are no disconnections between the expiration of the current order and when the budget becomes law.” 

The SCC has repeatedly told the General Assembly that the current ban is not sustainable without a legislative solution. 

In denying Northam’s request, however, the commission emphasized that consumer protections established in prior orders remain in force, including an order that all jurisdictional utilities offer extended payment plans of up to 12 months for customers unable to pay their bills due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Northam spokesperson Alena Yarmosky called the payment plans “good news” but said “protections need to go further.”

“The Governor proposed stronger, more permanent  protections in the state budget he sent the General Assembly,” she said in a statement. “Today’s SCC action heightens the urgency to act, and he renews his call for legislators to move quickly.”

This story has been updated to add comments from the Governor’s Office.