PNG seeks to defer customer payments because of COVID-19

The plan is to do this for three months

Pacific Northern Gas is asking its regulator for approval to defer payments from eligible customers for up to three months.

The application to do so was filed with the B.C. Utilities Commission April 9 and the utility is now waiting for the commission’s response.

If approved, eligible customers will then have until March 2021 to make up the payments.

“Residential customers need to be able to confirm that they have experienced job loss, are unable to work due to COVID-19, or have had their wages reduced,” said PNG official Joe Mazza of its application.

“Eligibility for small commercial customers includes needing to close their business or have experienced a significant reduction in revenue due to COVID-19.”

Customers will not be subject to late payments charges or disconnection for the three-month period but will also have to agree to enter into repayment arrangements for any balances to be paid by March 31, 2021.

“As long customers are meeting their obligations under their repayment program, they will not be charged late payment charges or be subject to disconnections,” PNG indicated in its application.

The bill payment deferral program will apply to PNG’s two main distribution networks in northern B.C. — PNG West for the area west along Hwy 16 and PNG N.E. in northeastern B.C.

As it is, PNG began changing its collection program March 17 to reach what it termed as “mutually agreeable bill payment arrangements, including partial payment, customized payment plans and the waiver of late payment charges.”

It was also directed by the utilities commission to halt the disconnection of service for non-payment.

For now PNG said it doesn’t believe changes are needed to its current rates to implement the payment deferral program.

But part of its application includes setting up separate accounts for its two distribution systems into which it’ll place “any unrecovered revenues resulting from customers in any rate class who do not pay their bills due to the impacts of COVID-19 on their financial circumstance.”

“Billed amounts will only become bad debt after PNG has gone through its [collection] process and made efforts to recover the revenue owed.”

And when the financial impact of COVID-19 is better known, PNG will then seek approval as to how unrecovered debt may affect future rate increases.

It will also calculate its costs for dealing with COVID-19, including increasing customer service requirements and personal protective equipment purchases and include those in any future rate increase applications.

The company’s distribution services cover 42,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers across 16 communities in the north.

Meanwhile, BC Hydro, a Crown corporation, is providing a three-month billing credit which does not have to be repaid to qualifying households as part of the provincial response to COVID-19.

Qualifying small business customers will also receive a credit for April, May and June.

And qualifying customers can also defer payments or arrange for a payment plan with no penalty.

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