PSC Stalls Plans for Summit to Resume Gas Shutoffs and Fees

PSC Stalls Plans for Summit to Resume Gas Shutoffs and Fees
(Summit Utilities)

Summit Utilities, which drew thousands of billing complaints last winter after acquiring CenterPoint Energy’s natural gas infrastructure and customers in Arkansas and other states, was ordered Tuesday by regulators not to resume service cutoffs and late fees for Arkansans who have missed payment deadlines.

The Arkansas Public Service Commission ruled that Colorado-based Summit cannot resume cutoffs and late charges in July, as the utility had announced last month to its 425,000 Arkansas customers after voluntarily ending penalties. The company cited problems in migrating some customer accounts after acquiring CenterPoint’s infrastructure and customers in Arkansas and Oklahoma in a $2.3 billion deal that closed in January 2022.

The PSC order extended the disconnection moratorium “broadly to all customers at this time,” saying that the decision was “in the public interest.” The commission, which regulates utilities in the state, pledged to revisit the decision in 60 days.

Customers had complained that payments weren’t being properly credited to their accounts and a federal lawsuit, since withdrawn, had claimed consumers were being overcharged. Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin said his office had received thousands of complaints, which he referred to the PSC.

Summit’s problems began mounting in late fall when CenterPoint handed over billing responsibilities after providing that service during a 12-month transition period that was part of the acquisition agreement.

The PSC agreed with Griffin’s argument that shutoffs and fees should remain suspended, but its ruling urged customers to pay their bills, “particularly for any undisputed amounts.”

After the regulatory ruling, Summit issued a statement thanking the PSC for advising customers to pay their bills and noting that the company had not planned to reinstate nonpayment penalties until July. “We will continue to cooperate in the ongoing investigation and look forward to a final resolution of this proceeding.”

Lizzy Reinholt, Summit’s senior vice president for sustainability, corporate affairs and marketing, told Arkansas Business last month that Summit was “supportive of the investigation the Public Service Commission opened to review our billing and gas purchasing practices and feel this is the appropriate venue for that review.”

Summit, which beefed up its customer service team substantially in response to complaints, also announced in March that falling wholesale gas prices will give customers significant savings through Nov. 1. The company does not profit from higher gas prices, it pointed out, and is now charging 69.5 cents for a hundred cubic feet of natural gas, down 43% from a rate of $1.22 last winter, and down nearly 27% from last summer’s. Gas prices typically rise in cold weather because of its use in heating homes and businesses.

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