PG&E workers replace an old power pole with a new one on Willimet Way in Hayward, Calif on Thursday, June 3, 2021. (Ray Saint Germain/Bay City News)

The California Public Utilities Commission has approved suspending utility shutoffs for another three months as part of its efforts to address the significant utility debt that customers took on during the pandemic.

During a period now extended through Sept. 30, the CPUC will issue automated payment plans for residents and business owners with energy bills overdue by 60 days. The hope is to prevent customers from receiving balloon payments, or worse, no utility services at all because of their payment history.

“The CPUC continues to support customers in addressing the consequences of the pandemic by offering these additional payment plans and greater latitude to avoid disconnections,” said Commissioner Genevieve Shiroma.

For customers of large utility companies, the payment plans will run for 24 months, meaning customers have two years to make up for the bills they skipped because of the pandemic. These automatic plans are optional, however, and customers can still receive compensation from relief programs, pay in larger amounts or pay off their debts in full at any time.

Customers of smaller utility companies will be enrolled in either 12- or 24-month payment plans with the option to opt out.

And for small business owners across the state, utility companies must map out a debt payment plan that doesn’t have payments exceeding 10 percent of their normal bill. Businesses in low-income neighborhoods will pay no more than 5 percent of their average bill per debt payment.