Washington regulators on July 30 approved Puget Sound Energy's request to increase the spending limits on its Crisis Affected Customer Assistance Program for its electric customers, from $7.8 million to $12.3 million.

PSE asked the Washington UTC July 21 for expedited review of its request to increase the spending limits on CACAP, which has provided financial assistance to close to 10,000 COVID-19 impacted households and has more than 9,000 pending applications since April, the order said.

PSE reported that as of July 16, CACAP has distributed $4.3 million in electric benefits and $1.3 million in natural gas benefits. The utility projects it will need a total of $12.3 million for electric benefits to make CACAP available to qualifying customers through Sept. 30.

The program allows PSE customers facing financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic to apply for bill assistance of up to $1,000. The program uses the unspent balance in PSE's Home Energy Lifeline Program that was collected from Schedule 129 rates prior to Sept. 30, 2019.

CACAP funding has been capped at $7.8 million for electric service and $7 million for natural gas service, but overall CACAP spending across both electric and natural gas service is capped at $11 million.

PSE proposed increasing electric CACAP funding by $4.5 million and removing the combined electric and natural gas cap. The proposal was not opposed by WUTC staff, The Energy Project, Public Counsel Unit of the Washington Attorney General's Office and NW Energy Coalition, the order said.

Commission staff reviewed the filing, and said "it believes the extension of the CACAP and the increase in spending cap are justified. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to create financial hardship for many of PSE's customers, and the July 25 expiration of benefits available through the Federal Pandemic Unemployment [Compensation] Program is likely to make the situation worse."

WUTC commissioners agreed that allowing the proposed tariff revisions to become effective with less than statutory notice is reasonable and appropriate.

"The Commission recognizes the economic hardship many of PSE's customers are facing, and will continue to face, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We find that increasing the spending cap for CACAP and authorizing an extension of the program through September 30, 2020, are both justified and decidedly in the public interest," the order said.

The PSE Foundation, a nonprofit entity operating independently of Puget Sound Energy, on July 29 announced it has revised its standard grant program to allow more organizations to apply with a broader range of qualifying funding requests.

The foundation will provide grants totaling $400,000 before the end of the year to nonprofit and public charity organizations located within PSE's 16-county service and operation areas to help sustain and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The grants will be selected based on a competitive process with applications deadlines of Aug. 31 and Oct. 1, the foundation said in a news release. Funding will be awarded in October and December.

"We know this is a great time of need for the communities we serve and the organizations that support them," Andy Wappler, PSE Foundation chairman and president, said in a prepared statement. "We are living our value to do what's right and helping how we can."

The PSE Foundation and PSE have contributed more than $1.3 million towards mitigating impacts of COVID-19 across PSE's service area.

Editor - Clearing Up

Steve began covering energy policy and resource development in the Pacific Northwest in 1999. He’s been editor of Clearing Up since 2003, and has been a fellow at the Institute for Journalism and Natural Resource and University of Texas.