Commission allows remote disconnect pilot program
The Idaho Public Utilities Commission has given Avista Utilities the go-ahead to implement a pilot program that will allow it to disconnect and reconnect customers from a remote location. Under the 18-month pilot, Avista will be allowed to install up to 600 remote disconnect collars that allow for the remote enabling and disabling of service from Avista’s offices.
Customers selected for the program would include those who have threatened to harm Avista employees or property, who live on a property where there is danger from animals or has obstructed access to meters and those who have had two field collection visits or disconnections in the preceding 12 months, meaning that upon the third visit a remote collar could be installed.
Avista claims the program will reduce operating and maintenance expenses related to multiple disconnection and reconnections, increase the productivity of its employees by eliminating multiple trips to customer homes for collections, enhance employee safety, establish a quicker response time to reconnect service and recognize a reduction in bill defaults and write-offs by encouraging prompt consumer payment over time.
Avista’s application was accepted by the commission only after revisions proposed by commission staff as well as groups who originally opposed the plan, including AARP Idaho and the Community Action Partnership Association of Idaho.
Those revisions included adding a provision that customers who are receiving assistance from Avista’s CARES program would be excluded from remote disconnection. Other commission rules that protect qualifying customers from disconnection during the winter months would still apply. The revisions also clarified that remote disconnection can happen only upon the third field collection visit or disconnection within a preceding 12-month period. Further, the revisions also required that Avista consult with commission staff regarding the language to be placed on the door hangar envelopes when leaving a Notice of Disconnection on a customer’s property.
The revised application extended the pilot program from one year to 18 months to ensure more complete data and also requires more detailed reporting to the commission on the program’s impacts.
An advantage of the program, commission staff said, is that power can be restored to a disconnected customer within minutes any time during the day or night and even on weekends. Under the current method, it can take several hours before a utility employee can schedule a home visit to restore power.
Avista and all regulated utilities must abide by the commission’s customer service rules regarding disconnection. A first disconnection notice is sent at least seven days before the proposed disconnection date. A second notice is sent at least three days before disconnect. Then a call must be made to the customer at least 24 hours before disconnection. Under the pilot, Avista plans to continue providing written and oral notices. The only rules waived under the pilot is one requiring a utility employee to knock on the customer door to provide a final opportunity to make a payment and another that requires the employee to give to the customer or leave in a conspicuous location a notice showing the grounds for termination and steps to be taken to secure reconnection.
Avista serves about 115,000 Idaho customers from Grangeville north to the Canadian border.
A full text of the commission’s order, along with other documents related to this case, is available on the commission’s Web site at www.puc.idaho.gov. Click on “File Room” and then on “Electric Cases” and scroll down to Case No. AVU-E-07-09.
Interested parties may petition the commission for reconsideration by no later than Aug. 20. Petitions for reconsideration must set forth specifically why the petitioner contends that the order is unreasonable, unlawful or erroneous. Petitions should include a statement of the nature and quantity of evidence the petitioner will offer if reconsideration is granted.
Petitions can be delivered to the commission at 472 W. Washington St. in Boise, mailed to P.O. Box 83720, Boise, ID, 83720-0074, or faxed to 208-334-3762.