Hawaiian Electric Co. and other utilities have suspended service disconnections due to nonpayments of bills since March due to the economic upheaval from the COVID-19 pandemic, but that moratorium will end on Dec. 31 unless the state Public Utilities Commission extends the deadline.
There has been an increase in customers struggling to pay electricity bills on time since the onset of the pandemic in Hawaii in March.
“We’ve seen a marked increase in the number of customers who have fallen behind on their electricity bill payments,” Hawaiian Electric spokeswoman Shannon Tangonan said in an email. “Before the pandemic, 1% of both residential and commercial customers were behind by more than 90 days. Today, 4% of residential customers and 3% of commercial customers are behind by 90 or more days.”
She said the company has told the PUC last week that it would not be opposed to an extension of the disconnection moratorium.
Statewide, Hawaiian Electric has about 410,700 residential customers, and 55,300 commercial customers on Oahu, Maui County and Hawaii island. So that means about 16,400 residential customers and 1,660 commercial customers are behind on payments by 90 or more days.
Tangonan said Hawaiian Electric has tried to connect customers to existing financial assistance programs that help them pay their energy bills, as well as set up payment arrangement plans.
Several payment arrangement options are available, including interest-free monthly installment plans.
The Kauai Island Utility Cooperative, which serves 33,000 electric accounts, has also suspended service disconnections for both residential and commercial customers through Dec. 31, based on the PUC moratorium.
The PUC, meanwhile, is expected to make a decision on extending the Dec. 31 deadline before the end of the year.
“Whenever the moratorium is lifted, we’re not going to immediately run out and disconnect customers who have fallen behind on their bills,” Tangonan said. “We’ll take extra steps and extra time to contact every customer who may need help and work together to make a plan. We hope this outreach will be successful – and that no one will be disconnected.”
Hawaiian Electric walk-in payment centers, meanwhile, permanently closed this month in Honolulu, Kahului, Hilo, Kona and Molokai due to declining use and a shift to other payment options.
The utility is also reminding customers to remain vigilant of scam calls and phishing attempts as the holidays approach.
Anyone who calls to say an account is delinquent and threatens to shut off service unless payment is made is part of a scam, as well as anyone who requests payment over the phone, money transfer or Bitcoin. Also, emails from a utility company urging customers to click on an embedded link or attachment to resolve a utility issue is likely a scam.