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1 Regulatory Commission of Alaska Customer Service in Tough Times: Working with Customers and Utilities NARUC Summer Meetings Consumer Affairs Subcommittee.

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Presentation on theme: "1 Regulatory Commission of Alaska Customer Service in Tough Times: Working with Customers and Utilities NARUC Summer Meetings Consumer Affairs Subcommittee."— Presentation transcript:

1 1 Regulatory Commission of Alaska Customer Service in Tough Times: Working with Customers and Utilities NARUC Summer Meetings Consumer Affairs Subcommittee Seattle, WA July 19, 2009 M. Grace Salazar, Chief RCA Consumer Protection (907)

2 2 Consumer Protection & Information Office Regulatory Commission of Alaska Residential Ratepayers Commercial Ratepayers Media Coverage 3 Staff: CPIO I & CPIO II Intake & Investigations Explain Rights & Responsibilities as a Utility Customer Assist Customers in Negotiating Deferred Payment Arrangements Statewide Consumer Outreach Consumer Assistance Programs, including Lifeline & Link Up Program Press Releases/PSAs/Consumer Advisories Utility I don’t have enough revenue. Increase rates, add fees.

3 3 Know the Rules SHUT-OFF PROTECTIONS Before electric or heat can be shut off for nonpayment, customer must receive a shutoff notice 15 days before the date of disconnection. The notice must be separate from other mailings and must clearly say that it is a shutoff notice and provide payment options. If a utility has been notified that a residence is occupied by a person seriously ill, elderly, with disability, or dependent on life support systems, the utility shall extend the disconnection date by 15 days and notify the customer of the extension. 3 AAC

4 4 Know the Rules SHUT-OFF PROTECTIONS Not less than three working days prior to disconnection, the utility shall attempt personal contact with the customer either by telephone or by visit of an authorized utility representative to the premises. If by telephone, the utility shall attempt to make contact no less than three times at various periods in the day or make other reasonable attempts to contact the customer. A utility shall keep records of all attempted and completed telephone contacts, showing at least the time, the person making the attempt, and the outcome. If by visit to the premises, the utility's authorized representative shall hand- deliver a "Shut-Off Notice" to the customer or, if no personal contact is possible, leave the notice in a prominent place. If the premises is 25 or more miles from the nearest location from which the utility delivers notices and if telephone contact cannot be made, a first class, postage-prepaid letter may serve as an alternative to a hand-delivered "Shut-Off" notice.

5 5 Working with Customers Listen to the Customers  Listen to what our customers are saying, even if we heard it 100 times.  Advise customer that if we are unable to help, we will make sure we direct them to the appropriate agency that can provide assistance.  Understand the financial hardship and any other relevant factors related to the circumstances of the customer. Negotiate Payment Arrangements  Assist utility customers in negotiating payment arrangements to avoid service disconnection.  Review customer’s payment history  Determine size of delinquent account and length of time debt has been outstanding and the circumstances which resulted in the outstanding debt.

6 6 Working with Customers Sample Utility DPA I wish to pay the account balance over a period of ______ months. I agree to pay the account balance of $___________, an additional deposit requirement of $__________ and a reconnect fee $___________, all totaling $_____________. If I fail to keep the payment agreement, a second agreement may be offered depending on my account history. However, if the second agreement is not kept, utility will not extend another agreement for a period of 12 months. For those customers experiencing extreme financial hardship, the utility normally waives the late fees, finance charges, disconnect and reconnect fees.

7 7 Working with Customers Refer to LIHEAP and Other Consumer Assistance Programs  Assist with completing/faxing LIHEAP Application Forms.  Refer customers to the city’s Safety Links Program, public assistance office, food banks and religious organizations, and to the 211 directory of human service providers.  Provide information on Weatherization & Energy Rebate Programs of Alaska Housing Finance Corporation.  Provide information on Lifeline & Link Up Program and any other utility-sponsored programs.

8 8 Working with Utilities Establish and Maintain a Good Rapport with Utility Representatives  Annual site tour, understand utility business operations  Meet the utilities’ customer service, credits and collections, field/maintenance staff, and regulatory affairs staff Attempt to Resolve Conflicts Early  Talk to utility about the customer’s situation  Request the utility to hold off on disconnecting service  Obtain customer’s usage and payment history Look for Win-Win Results  Negotiate payment arrangements  Whenever possible, we request the utility to WAIVE late fees, disconnection/reconnection fees, and other finance charges  Alternate solutions without going through a formal proceeding

9 9 Low Income Heating Assistance Program (LIHEAP)  Program runs from November 1 through April 30  Households with seniors or disabled persons may apply for the program as early as September 1  NEW: State Heating Assistance Program for households with incomes between % of the federal income guidelines.  Chugach Electric Energy Assistance Program: one-time assistance up to $500 available to households with person seriously ill, disability, or 65 yrs and older. Consumer Assistance Programs

10 10 Coins Can Count Program  This program allows Anchorage Water & Wastewater Utility customers to voluntarily opt to have their monthly payments rounded up to the next highest dollar, with the excess coins dedicated to a fund to help needy customers in paying their water/wastewater bills.  This program allows Anchorage Water & Wastewater Utility customers to voluntarily opt to have their monthly payments rounded up to the next highest dollar, with the excess coins dedicated to a fund to help needy customers in paying their water/wastewater bills. For example, if a bill is $69.81 and customer elected to participate in the program and paid $70, the.19 cents will be set aside for this fund. Consumer Assistance Programs

11 11 Power Cost Equalization Program   PCE is a state-funded program to help reduce the costs of power in rural parts of Alaska that rely on high cost diesel fuel for most of their electric power generation.   The PCE rate is determined by the RCA. Utilities then submit monthly reports to the Alaska Energy Authority that documents eligible power sold. The Alaska Energy Authority calculates the amount of PCE on a monthly basis and issues payment to the utility that flows through to the customer in the form of a reduced monthly electric bill. Consumer Assistance Programs

12 12 To receive a PCE payment, a customer of an eligible utility:   must be billed by the utility in accordance with the relevant tariff, rate structure, separate demand charge, or minimum charge;   must make timely payments to the utility, for the electric power purchased, at least annually or on an appropriate schedule throughout the year; and   must pay the base amount, plus the difference between the utility rate and the amount of the power cost equalization payment for each kWh consumed. Consumer Assistance Programs

13 13 Brochures & Fact Sheets  Know Your Rights as a Utility Customer  Understanding Your Electric Bill  Understanding Your Gas Bill  Ways to Lower Your Energy Bills  Understanding the Charges on Your Phone Bills  Lifeline & Link Up Program  More…

14 14

15 15 Thank You M. Grace Salazar, Chief RCA Consumer Protection Section (907)


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