Wyden, Merkley call for utility-customer protections

Oregon’s two U.S. senators are backing a Congressional resolution that calls for protections for electricity and gas utility customers during the coronavirus pandemic.

The state’s major regulated utilities, Portland General Electric, Pacific Power and NW Natural, earlier this month said they won’t shut off service or charge late fees for the time being.

Still, Democrats Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley joined with six Democratic colleagues in a resolution urging regulators and utilities to ensure those things, along with reconnections at no extra charge for those who have lost service and no increases in rates.

“Although various utility companies in Oregon have voluntarily committed to protect their communities’ utility access, many states, including Oregon, have not used their authority to govern electric and gas rates to order all utilities to take this vital action,” a joint news release from Wyden and Merkley said.

In a statement on the pandemic last week, the Oregon Public Utility Commission said it had worked closely with utilities to ensure protections for vulnerable ratepayers, and noted that it “approved filings submitted by the electric and natural gas utilities to provide them needed flexibility to waive late payment fees for customers during this health scare.

The other senators, all Democrats, behind the resolution are: Edward J. Markey and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Kamala Harris of California, Kristen Gillibrand of New York and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.