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.”

Share Your Story

Nativo Sponsored Content

Ad Tango


"

taboola desktop

MORE ARTICLES LIKE THIS

1
Is methane reduction the low-hanging fruit?
Energy
We will soon have the technology ... We will soon have the technology to track and pinpoint industrial leaks
2
A cultural crossroads and history book of the land
Energy
Los Alamos National Laboratory is seeking ... Los Alamos National Laboratory is seeking a 12.5-mile, 115-kilovolt power transmission line that would cut across the plateau
3
Top New Mexico lawmakers concerned about oil and gas ...
Energy
A group of powerful New Mexico ... A group of powerful New Mexico lawmakers is questioning whether state environment officials have done enough to weigh the potential economic effects of a ...
4
NM wind project of historic size nearly complete
Business
Renewable power developer Pattern Energy is ... Renewable power developer Pattern Energy is nearing completion of a mammoth wind project in east cen ...
5
Acoma governor: Oil, gas leasing needs tribal input
ABQnews Seeker
Archaeologist notes impact of 100 years ... Archaeologist notes impact of 100 years of rampant development is substantial
6
PNM, Avangrid sweeten merger deal
Energy
Offer of strict regulatory controls, millions ... Offer of strict regulatory controls, millions for economic development
7
New Mexico and the federal infrastructure bill: FAQs
ABQnews Seeker
Additional funding under grant programs included ... Additional funding under grant programs included in the act would also be available
8
NM could get billions in new federal funding
ABQnews Seeker
State a key player in Biden's ... State a key player in Biden's clean energy investment plans
9
NM takes multi-pronged approach to curbing methane emissions
ABQnews Seeker
Last year, New Mexico's state government ... Last year, New Mexico's state government worked with federal regulators to document aerial footage of oil and gas sites.