RICHMOND — The State Corporation Commission (SCC) has approved the framework to allow customers of an electric cooperative to participate in a voluntary prepaid electric service program. It is the first such program to be offered in Virginia.
Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, which serves approximately 155,000 meters in primarily rural counties and towns from Fredericksburg to Front Royal, proposed the program which will be available to customers who request it. The program allows a customer to prepay for electric service and allows the cooperative to suspend service when sufficient funds are not available.
Under the traditional billing method, a customer consumes electricity for at least one month, after which the meter is read and a bill is sent to the customer.
Under prepaid service, a customer establishes a prepaid balance with the cooperative. As electricity is consumed, charges are deducted daily from the customer’s prepaid account. The cooperative reads the meter at least once a day. When the charges for electric service equal or exceed the amount of the prepayment balance, the cooperative will issue a notice that service will be suspended if no payment is received by 8 a.m. of the next calendar day. If payment sufficient to re-establish a positive prepayment balance is not received by 8 a.m. of the next calendar day, electric service will be automatically suspended without additional notification.
In its order on the application, the SCC identified a number of specific requirements for a voluntary prepaid electric service program:
- There will be no termination of service prior to 7 a.m. or after 3 p.m.
- The prepaid electric service is not available to households receiving service subject to a Serious Medical Condition Certification
- The cooperative is allowed up to three hours to restore service once prepaid service is terminated
- The cooperative is not required to set a particular time of day to read meters, and no paper bills will be part of the prepaid service program
- The SCC staff and the cooperative will work together to formulate a consumer education process prior to offering the prepaid service program to customers.
In addition, the SCC directed Rappahannock to provide customers with direct notification of low balance conditions prior to the termination of service:
- Rappahannock will provide direct notice to a customer when the customer’s prepayment balance represents approximately five days of estimated normal usage
- Daily notifications will continue to be made until the prepayment balance exceeds the predetermined notification level or reaches zero
- Customer notifications will be provided by telephone, email or text message, as selected by the customer
- Rappahannock shall offer low balance notification to a third party designated by the customer.
The Commission concluded that a pre-paid electric service program is lawful and in the public interest only if such requirements are met. A provision of Virginia law adopted in 2010 allows electric cooperatives to provide such a program. The law also directs the Commission to ensure that the tariff for such a program is not contrary to the public interest.
Case Number PUE-2011-00091