The Public Utilities Commission has extended the suspension of service disconnections due to nonpayments for Hawaiian Electric customers another three months to March 31, 2021.
Originally, the suspensions, which have been in place for Hawaiian Electric and Kauai Island Utility Cooperative customers since March due to economic hardships brought by the pandemic were originally set to expire on Dec. 31.
The ruling covers all commission-regulated utilities providing electricity, gas, telecommunications and water in the state.
“In examining further extension of the disconnection suspension in the instant Order,” the PUC said, “the Commission notes that while there has been positive news recently regarding a COVID-19 vaccine, Hawaii is still in a state of emergency from the COVID-19 pandemic and many utility customers continue to struggle with unemployment and other economic impacts.”
The commission’s decision was informed by responses to a Nov. 25 letter from a variety of utilities that are posted online at puc.hawaii.gov/covid19.
The PUC’s order also directs any utility that has not already done so to develop customer payment plans for customers with past due balances greater than 60 days to help ease burdens after suspensions are discontinued.
Hawaiian Electric has seen a marked increase in the number of customers that have fallen behind on their electricity bill payments — approximately 4% of its residential customers and 3% of its commercial customers are behind by 90 or more days.
Hawaiian Electric has made several payment arrangement options available, including interest-free monthly installment plans.
Financial assistance programs are also available to pay utility bills.
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz on Monday announced thata new COVID-19 relief bill approved by Congress provides at least $1.7. billion for Hawaii, including an estimated $200 million to help Hawaii residents pay rent, utilities and home energy bills.
President Donald Trump, however, recently assailed the bipartisan $900 billion pandemic relief package, suggesting he may not sign it.