October 9, 2015—Last week the Rhode Island Center for Justice , a non-profit public interest law center that is collaborating with the George Wiley Center advocacy group, filed a lawsuit in the Rhode Island Superior Court against both National Grid and the Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities and Carriers. According to the Center for Justice, the lawsuit, "seeks to stop utility shut-off practices of National Grid and the Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities and Carriers that violate state and federal law." The Center represents approximately 3,000 seriously ill and disabled consumer households in Rhode Island whose gas and electricity have been shut off.
One of the five named plaintiffs, Penny Medeiros, suffers from a chronic illness that requires she be on electricity-powered oxygen 24 hours a day. She claims that, after her electricity had been shut off, she was forced to use battery-operated emergency oxygen and, according to one report, developed a lung infection as a result. She maintains that she had tried to work with National Grid to make payments and had received help from local charities, but that National Grid required more money than she could pay. According to Medeiros, National Grid shut her off without the appropriate amount of notice or the chance to go through an appeal process. National Grid has once again tried to shut off Medeiros' electricity and the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers (DPUC) has approved it. This time, Meidros states, she plans on going to the emergency room if they cut off her energy in order to avoid getting sick again.
Robert McCreanor, executive director of the Center for Justice, claims that state disconnect rules are not being followed. Not only that, but "disabled consumers are being fast-tracked for termination." He also puts the onerous on the DPUC for "rubber-stamp[ing]" National Grid's request to terminate service to disabled consumer households.
According to Rhode Island's Disconnect Policy , utilities are not allowed to disconnect power during the November 1 to April 31 moratorium, and they are to allow a 21 day disconnect delay if there is a household member who is certified as seriously ill. Utilities are also required to offer payment plans to customers in danger of disconnect.
The Center for Justice's lawsuit calls for a temporary restraining order that would keep National Grid from issuing any more disconnect notices and would require that they reconnect any vulnerable households that have been disconnected. Consumer advocates worry that National Grid will start accelerating shut-offs in the next few weeks just before the November 1 moratorium. The advocates claim the utility has done this in past years.
Sources: Rhode Island Center for Justice, Media Reports, LIHEAP Clearinghouse