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Updates for Navigating Legal Pathways to Fund Rate-Funded Customer Assistance Programs

In 2017, the Environmental Finance Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill led a team of experts in summarizing legal barriers and opportunities to establish customer assistance programs using rate revenue, resulting in Navigating Legal Pathways to Fund Rate-Funded Customer Assistance Programs. Below is a brief summary of noteworthy changes that have taken place since that report was published in July 2017.

As water and wastewater prices continue to increase, due to a variety of factors, more utilities may find the need to establish assistance programs for some of their customers. In light of this and due to the passing and amending of new/old legislation, the EFC periodically updates all current state and territory summaries, and additionally, will be adding summaries for the other U.S. territories not previously included.

Report Highlights

Navigating Legal Pathways to Rate-Funded Customer Assistance Programs examines state and territory statutes that would affect a utility’s ability to fund a customer assistance program using rate revenue. The report, however, did not look at authorities, soil and water districts, or partnership models and thus, its findings and characterizations do not apply to all water and wastewater systems.

One of the major findings of the report was that most of the language used in statutes related to the use of rate revenue to fund customer assistance programs was ambiguous and open to interpretation. In fact, only a few states have statutes or case law that explicitly authorize or prohibit the use of rate revenue to fund customer assistance programs. However, there have been some changes in legislation since the publication of the report (July 2017) in which a couple of states have passed new legislation to allow for the establishment of customer assistance programs using rate revenue.

State Updates

The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission originally had statutes that had the potential to be used to challenge commission-regulated utilities who wanted to or had established customer assistance programs using rate revenue. However, in mid-2017, Indiana passed two bills, House Enrolled Act 1519 and Senate Enrolled Act 416. These bills authorize the Utility Regulatory Commission to approve customer assistance programs and state that establishing a customer assistance program with rate revenue is no longer considered discriminatory. As of the date of this blog post, the Utility Regulatory Commission has yet to review a utility’s request to establish a customer assistance program using rate revenue. To see the updated summary for Indiana, click here.

Territory Updates

Originally, the publication of the report provided summaries for 50 states, one territory (Puerto Rico), and the District of Columbia. However, new territories will be added to the project website throughout the year, with the first new territory being Guam. To see the summary for Guam, click here.

Legal summaries for American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands, and U.S. Virgin Islands summaries will be available later this year.

How to Get Updates

If you would like to receive notifications for updated state or (new) territory summaries, subscribe to the email list here. To see the most updated state and territory summaries and maps, please visit the project website. All updated summaries are located in the drop down menu.

Because affordability problems are being addressed by more states through policy or other innovative ways, the EFC is eager to track these changes and provide resources for utilities to use to help address these problems. However, it is highly recommended that utility representatives seek legal counsel before implementing a customer assistance program or any other solution that addresses affordability.

Claudia Flores is a project coordinator with the Environmental Finance Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2017 where she majored in Environmental Science and minored in Environmental Systems and Society.

 

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