Ask SD Rural Electric Cooperatives for Non-Shut Off Policies
By Rick Bell, Black Hills DRA Chapter and Community Energy Development Committee Chairperson
Ask our SD electric cooperatives to develop a policy not to disconnect people from service during the COVID-19 pandemic and to tell their members about it!
During the difficult time of this COVID-19 national emergency, there is a widespread loss of wages and jobs across our state that is disproportionately impacting low-wealth households. And these economic losses are seriously affecting the ability of some families to pay for essential utility services, despite the fact that access to electricity and water utility services are crucial to protecting individuals and communities from the spread of the coronavirus disease.
Recognizing this situation, every investor owned utility (IOU) in the state has developed a policy and posted it on their website telling consumers that they will not shut off power to a user who cannot currently pay their bills. For example, Xcel Energy says on their website: “Keeping you connected. We will not disconnect service to any residential customers until further notice.”
And yet to date, as far as can be seen, no electric co-op in SD has anything on their website stating any such policy. This is despite the party line which co-ops are quite fond of saying about how they are so supportive of their members. For instance, Touchstone Energy Cooperative touts on their website: “What Makes Our Cooperatives Different. Touchstone Energy co-ops are owned by the members they serve and are committed to providing reliable electricity at the lowest price possible. In short, co-ops ‘look out’ for the members they serve.”
So the picture is clear: by not pledging that they won’t disconnect electric service to members who are having a hard time paying their bills, the co-ops in South Dakota are not acting in the best interest of their members. Now the question is: What can be done about it?
First, if you’re a member of an electric co-op, please send a letter to the Board of Directors and General Manager asking them to implement a moratorium on all electricity shut-offs, a waiver of all late-payment charges, and a reinstitution of any services that have already been cut off due to nonpayment, and to communicate this policy to all members. A draft letter can be found below which you can use as a template to prepare your own letter. And encourage your friends and neighbors to sign on as well. And if you are not a member of a co-op (or even if you are), you can send a Letter to the Editor of your local newspaper to highlight this issue.
Please feel free to share this post via email and social media with your friends and relatives concerning this issue.
Thank YOU for Taking Action!
EDITOR’S NOTE: It can sometimes be difficult to find information about your Rural Electric Cooperative like the names of and how to contact board members and managers. This website is a good place to start if you live in SD: https://www.sdrea.coop/content/territory-map. If you would like to send a letter like this or make a request of your website and could use some help contact the DRA office at (605)697-5204 ext 240 or e-mail us at: email@example.com.
DRAFT LETTER TO RURAL ELECTRIC COOPERATIVES
April x, 2020
Re: COOPERATIVE LEADERSHIP MUST TAKE URGENT ACTION TO ADDRESS
ELECTRIC SHUT-OFFS AND ACCESS ISSUES EXACERBATED BY THE
CORONAVIRUS NATIONAL EMERGENCY
Dear [Cooperative Name] Board of Directors and CEO & General Manager, [Name]:
On behalf of the member-owners of the [Co-op Name], we write with deep concern about the impacts of the coronavirus national emergency on the access to electricity and basic utility services for the member owners of [Co-op Name], particularly the low-wealth households.
The COVID-19 pandemic is already resulting in the widespread loss of wages, jobs and spring farm income across our state and will disproportionately impact low-wealth households. As the loss of jobs, wages and spring farm income affect the ability of families to pay for essential utility services, access to electricity and water utility services are crucial to protecting individuals and communities from the spread of this disease.
We request that [Co-op Name] immediately enact an emergency policy to implement a moratorium on all electricity shut-offs, waive all late-payment charges, and re-institute of any services that have already been cut off due to nonpayment. This emergency policy should be in place for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis. Furthermore, [Co-op name] should communicate this new policy clearly with member-owners by issuing a statement, posting this new policy on their website, and/or including it in the next membership newsletter.
All of our investor-owned utilities in South Dakota, including Black Hills Energy, Montana-Dakota Utilities, MidAmerican Energy, NorthWestern Energy, and Xcel Energy have announced new policies to suspend service disconnections for non-payment effective immediately. Several of our region’s rural electric cooperatives in neighboring states have done the same including Missoula Electric Cooperative, Lincoln Electric Cooperative, Flathead Electric Cooperative, Glacier Electric Cooperative, and Fall River Electric Cooperative.
While we understand that [Co-op name] has a responsibility to balance business decisions and also to allow for flexibility in meeting member needs, we believe that our cooperative must act as a good neighbor in times of crisis and respond to member needs first and foremost. Therefore, we recommend that in addition to the moratorium on shut-offs and waiver of late fees that [Co-op name] implement a relief fund using funds from the recently passed federal relief bill to help clear the debt of those hardest hit by the virus and to help make the cooperative whole again. Additionally, we recommend instituting six month payment plans to help cooperative members spread out the payments on their debt incurred during this time. The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) has information and resources to help small co-ops provide relief to their membership and we encourage you to reach out to them for support.
We urge [Co-op name] to join the ranks of these proactive and member-oriented cooperatives and immediately put a moratorium on all electricity shut-offs and waive all late payment charges. Our communities are counting on you to lead.
Member-owners of [Co-op name]