Proposal aims at keeping people alive during extreme heat
Last updated 3/8/2023 at 2:56pm
Legislation prohibiting involuntary termination of electric or water services during extreme hot weather was approved by the state House of Representatives 64-31.
Current law prohibits utilities from terminating heat utility services between Nov. 15 and March 15 if a resident follows certain steps, including agreement to a payment plan.
House Bill 1329, by Rep. Sharlett Mena, D-Tacoma, would prohibit involuntary termination of electric or water utility services due to lack of payment in certain high-heat events.
“It’s snowing and freezing across our state today, and in times like these, I’m so grateful that we live in Washington where, regardless of whether you can afford your power and water, we don’t shut it off in the winter months,” Mena said. “People can get hurt, people can die, and the same is true of extreme heat.”
High heat events include when the temperature is predicted to be above 90 degrees, when the actual temperature reaches 90 degrees by 8 a.m., and during a holiday or a weekend where the predicted temperature for the weekend is expected to reach 90 degrees.
If water or electric services are involuntarily terminated to an occupied household, the utility service would be required to contact affected customers and make reasonable attempts to reconnect the services in any of the three scenarios.
When the high temperature period has ended, utility services would be allowed to disconnect services if a payment arrangement has not been reached.
Extreme heat waves are increasing in frequency and severity, she said. Detrimental health impacts can begin at around 78.6 degrees.
The heat wave in 2021 took 157 lives, making it the deadliest weather-related event in Washington State history, she said.
“I think we can do more to ensure that we close this gap that we have for the winter moratorium and extend it to the summer months when there is extreme heat as well,” she said.
Out of the 64 yes votes on the bill, 55 were Democratic and nine were Republican. The 31 no votes were entirely Republican. Rep. Mary Dye, R-Pomeroy, said the vote has mixed numbers because Washington is a diverse state.
The west side sees temperatures are moderate throughout the year because of the temperate environment, and even the most vulnerable people, such as seniors, do not need air conditioning, she said.
But, on the east side of the state, it is expected to get hot during the summer, and there is the expectation that people will have the ability to cool themselves off, she said. Residents on the east side of the state are more prepared for the extreme weather.
“The problem in this case is that we’re a little bit mixed because we all live in different regions of the state with different utilities that serve our constituents,” she said. “We feel that while it may be workable in some areas, it may not be workable in other utilities that have different modes of funding.”
If HB 1329 becomes law, it would not mean customers are exempt from paying for their utility bills, she said. But, it would ensure that Washington residents can keep utilities on in their houses, apartment buildings and mobile homes.
“This legislation simply protects people’s health and safety by keeping their utilities on during the hottest days,” she said. “We have the capacity to provide a lifeline for people in our state during extreme weather, and we should. This is the right thing to do.”