BOSTON — Utilities are giving energy consumers a break on their outstanding electric and natural gas bills in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
National Grid over the weekend told customers it is suspending bill-related collections, and will not shut off service due to non-payment, until the end of April.
"We recognize that certain customers may experience financial difficulty as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, whether they or a family member fall ill, are required to quarantine, or because their income is otherwise affected," the company said. "We hope to alleviate our affected customers’ concerns about their electricity and gas service during this time."
National Grid provides electric service to about 1.2 million customers and gas to about 830,000 in Massachusetts, including tens of thousands North of Boston.
Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, which serves about 330,000 gas customers in the state, is also giving ratepayers a break on outstanding bills. The company told customers over the weekend that it is suspending late payment charges until May 1 and offering flexible payment plans for those who impacted by the virus outbreak.
Eversource Energy, which serves about 1.4 million customers in the state, is also pledging to lessen the financial hardships on customers affected by work disruptions.
In a statement, Eversource spokesman Reid Lamberty said the company is "voluntarily suspending residential customer disconnections indefinitely and continue(s) working with business customers who contact us about possible adjustments to their monthly bill."
"We've been closely monitoring COVID-19 and working to proactively address the concerns of our employees and customers, while ensuring that we continue to provide the safe, reliable gas and electric service that customers need," Lamberty said.
All of the companies said regular billing for electric and gas service will continue, but customers won't be shut off for not paying.
Utility workers who visit a home or business to respond to a service request will be asking if the people inside are sick or have traveled to infected regions. The companies are asking customers who are quarantined or sick who request service or report a natural gas leak or other emergency, to advise them about the conditions inside the household.
"We do not anticipate any service disruption to our customers at this time," National Grid said in its statement. "We have implemented additional measures that will allow us to safely continue providing essential services to you."
While the companies said the actions are voluntary, they've been under pressure to stop bill collections under an emergency declaration signed last week by Gov. Charlie Baker.
The state Department of Public Utilities already prohibits utilities from disconnecting residential electric and natural gas service from Nov. 15 to March 15. The agency sent letters to utility executives last week explaining that the moratorium should remain in place until Baker's emergency declaration is lifted.
In his letter, DPU chairman Matthew Nelson noted the need to remind consumers of the "importance of making payments during the moratorium to avoid the accumulation of large arrearages."
DPU also asked utilities to take "all reasonable steps" to allow payment accommodations "before any shutoffs to commercial or industrial customers for non-payment" of their bills.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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