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OR and RI Approve Ratepayer Funding for Low-Income Energy Assistance

The governors of Oregon and Rhode Island have signed legislation that could lead to increased funding for low-income energy assistance in their states.

Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber on June 28 signed SB 863 which adds an additional $5 million yearly to the state’s ratepayer-funded energy assistance program called Oregon Energy Assistance (OEAP). The program helps low-income households who have either had their electric service disconnected or who are at risk of being disconnected .

Customers of Oregon’s two largest electric utilities currently pay a monthly meters charge that provides $15 million annually for rate assistance. Under SB 863 that amount will rise to $20 million provided certain conditions are met. The conditions are tied to increases in the state’s unemployment, poverty and SNAP enrollment rates. Residential ratepayers will pay an estimated 35 cents more each month; they current pay about 50 cents per month.

The Oregon Housing and Community Services Department, which administers the OEAP in conjunction with LIHEAP, must ask for the funding increase after consulting with its advisory group and determining that the required conditions have been met.

Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chaffee on July 13 signed a bill that, pending regulatory commission approval, establishes a new fund to be used primarily for writing down LIHEAP participants’ natural gas and electric arrears. Funding will come from a uniform meters charge of about 80 cents per month on all electric and gas customer bills.

The charges will generate about $7.5 million annually, most of which will come from residential ratepayers. Program participants will be required to pay 10 percent of their past due bills up front, and a percentage of the remaining balance on a monthly basis over a 3-year period. Utilities are prohibited from disconnecting customers for non-payment if the outstanding balance is $300 or less and not more than 2 months in arrears.

However, before the program is created, the state’s Public Utilities Commission must first open a proceeding to consider approval of the new ratepayer charges.

Source: state newspapers