The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has struck down a measure that would have required delinquent natural gas payers to pay for the installation of a shutoff valve. The commission was told last week that installation of the valves could cost as much as $1,450.
The vote taken Friday counters an opinion of the Attorney General.
“All the customer has to do to avoid being billed for a curb or street valve installation is live up to that customer’s obligation to allow the Company reasonable access to the Company’s own property. Allowing these unpaid balances to grow forever is simply unfair to the general body of ratepayers,” Leo Wold, assistant attorney general, argued on behalf of the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers in a Nov. 20 letter to the commission.
The commission, however, likened placing the payment on the back of the delinquent payer like “getting blood from a stone.”
“The attorney general’s letter doesn’t sway me,” said Commissioner Paul Roberti.
He observed no other jurisdiction has such a measure and he raised concerns with multi-family dwellings. He said shutting off multiple dwellings “creates positively an unfair situation not acceptable to me.”
Roberti agreed that there are some who will try to beat the system.
“There are some bad apples out there and we can deal with that,” he said.
He likened requiring delinquent payers to foot the bill for shutoff valves like “putting the cost of an alarm system on the customer who walks out the store. I don’t think this is an appropriate tariff.”
Commission chair Margaret Curran said she felt the provision might be appropriate in some circumstances but not always.
Wold reasoned the gas system was designed and built long before there were requirements for outside access to gas shutoffs.
Wold addressed the issue of multi-family dwellings, saying that National Grid makes multiple efforts to notify non-paying customers and customers in a multi-family dwelling can avoid service interruptions by arranging for National Grid to have access to the meters in the building.
The commission voted unanimously to deny the request that had been filed by National Grid.
A spokeswoman for the Attorney General said Monday the office represents the division and that the position taken is not necessarily that of the Attorney General.