Utility shutoffs to begin Aug. 12 - Albuquerque Journal

Utility shutoffs to begin Aug. 12

Jasmin Adams, customer service representative at New Mexico Gas Co., handles phone calls at a walk-in center in Santa Fe. Two New Mexico utilities say they plan to return to normal billing practices Aug. 12. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Thousands of New Mexico customers who are behind on electricity and gas payments will once again be at risk of being disconnected as soon as next month.

A moratorium from the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission preventing utilities from disconnecting residential customers expired earlier this year, and a mandated 90-day transition period for investor-owned utilities and large gas companies is slated to end Aug. 12, according to PRC spokeswoman Sarah Valencia. Beginning that day, Valencia said, utilities are again free to shut off services for customers who can’t pay.

Now, a pair of New Mexico utilities – New Mexico Gas Co. and Public Service Company of New Mexico – are reminding customers that they plan to return to their normal billing practices that day, and are encouraging the thousands of customers who are past due on bills to work with them on payment plans.

“We can help the customers, we just need to have the conversation,” said Tim Korte, communications manager for New Mexico Gas Co.

A number of protections designed to help vulnerable New Mexicans weather the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have begun to expire as business restrictions eased. Disconnection of services for customers with past-due accounts will begin 12 days after federal protections for tenants facing eviction are set to expire.

The federal eviction moratorium, which was issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sept. 4, bars landlords from evicting tenants for failure to pay rent, but landlords can still evict tenants for other reasons.

However, while the federal eviction moratorium is nearing its end, a stay on evictions issued by the New Mexico Supreme Court remains in place.

Tens of thousands of New Mexicans stand to be impacted by the moratorium on utility disconnections ending. PNM has estimated that more than 47,000 residential customers are currently behind on their bills, with an average past-due balance of $448. The utility has reported $21.4 million in unpaid electric bills.

On the gas side, Korte said New Mexico Gas Co. has about 34,000 residential customers statewide who stand to be affected by the moratorium ending, with an average outstanding balance of $230.

Despite that, Korte said customers shouldn’t start panicking after their first unpaid bill. Korte described disconnection as a “last resort” for the utility, after other alternatives are exhausted. The timeframe varies depending on region and payment cycle, but Korte said customers would likely receive multiple past-due notices before being informed they were at risk of disconnection. Korte added that the gas company would try to reach customers by phone and by going door-to-door to collect payments.

In the meantime, customers who can’t pay have options for assistance.

Tom Prettyman, New Mexico Legal Aid Albuquerque office managing attorney, said that anyone having difficulty with paying utilities or rent should visit www.renthelpnm.org.

There, those having difficulty paying utilities or rent can apply for aid through the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which makes available $170 million in federal aid for assistance.

The program will also cover utility assistance for up to 15 months for renters behind on bills for electricity, gas, water and sewer, trash removal, fuel oil, wood and pellets; however the funds only cover renters, not homeowners.

Additionally, both PNM and NMGC urged customers who can’t pay to reach out in order to set up a payment plan or apply for financial assistance. PNM is offering support through its COVID Customer Relief Fund, which provides a one-time credit between $50 and $200 for qualifying residential customers, and its Good Neighbor Fund, which offers an emergency credit of up to $170 for renters experiencing financial hardship. More information about these and other programs is available at www.pnm.com/help.

Jasmin Adams, customer service representative at New Mexico Gas Co., works Tuesday on her computer at a walk-in customer service center in Santa Fe. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Korte added that NMGC customers can apply for help through the company’s HEAT New Mexico program. Small business owners can apply for aid online through the utility’s Small Business COVID-19 Relief Fund. Further payment assistance for both bills is available for residential customers through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

“There’s a lot of money available, and customers are not applying for this,” Korte said.

Maria Griego, New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty economic equity director, said it is important that families take advantage of these programs.

“Kids are just going to be starting back in school in the next couple of weeks and so it can be pretty disruptive to families when they deal with an electricity outage,” she said.

Griego said it’s important that those having difficulty paying utilities get in touch with the utility company and assistance programs as soon as possible.

“The more communication,” she said, “the better.”

Home » Business » Energy » Utility shutoffs to begin Aug. 12

Insert Question Legislature form in Legis only stories




Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

taboola desktop

ABQjournal can get you answers in all pages

 

Questions about the Legislature?
Albuquerque Journal can get you answers
Email addresses are used solely for verification and to speed the verification process for repeat questioners.
1
How will EU ban and West's price cap on ...
Energy
FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) -- The European ... FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) -- The European Union is taking another big step toward cutting its energy ties with Russia. The 27-nation bloc is banning ...
2
Bill would allow New Mexico cities, counties, tribes to ...
ABQnews Seeker
The proposed legislation would allow local ... The proposed legislation would allow local governments to take over electric generation from privately run utilities.
3
In the near future, clean geothermal energy could heat ...
ABQnews Seeker
The University of New Mexico's Utility ... The University of New Mexico's Utility Services Department could in the near future he ...
4
There’s almost unlimited clean, geothermal energy under our feet. ...
ABQnews Seeker
Modern drilling capabilities developed by the ... Modern drilling capabilities developed by the oil and gas industry are opening the gateway to deep underground geothermal energy.
5
Sandia National Laboratories' drilling research, long used by oil ...
ABQnews Seeker
Sandia wants to make those efforts ... Sandia wants to make those efforts more efficient and less expensive
6
House GOP seeks new restrictions on use of US ...
Energy
WASHINGTON (AP) -- For the second ... WASHINGTON (AP) -- For the second time this month, House Republicans have advanced a measure to restrict presidential use of the nation's emergency oil ...
7
Lights out in Pakistan as energy-saving move backfires
Energy
ISLAMABAD (AP) -- Most of Pakistan ... ISLAMABAD (AP) -- Most of Pakistan was left without power Monday as an energy-saving measure by the government backfired. The outage spread panic and ...
8
Average NM January heating bills jump 56%
ABQnews Seeker
A 15-year high in natural gas ... A 15-year high in natural gas prices and war in Ukraine are main factors
9
Study: Big gap in carbon removal effort key to ...
Energy
BERLIN (AP) -- Researchers say efforts ... BERLIN (AP) -- Researchers say efforts to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere aren't being scaled up fast enough and can't be relied on ...