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New PUC Report Shows Improvement in PA Households Starting Winter Without Heat-Related Utilities; Consumers Urged to Call About Heating Aid

Authored By: Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission

Information

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) has released the results of its annual Cold Weather Survey, which showed that more than 22,000 households across the state are entering the winter season without heat-related utility service or using unsafe heating sources.  That figure is approximately 9-percent lower than last year (2,150 fewer households starting the winter without heat), and nearly 13-percent lower (3,147 fewer households) than the “Polar Vortex” winter of 2014.

“This winter, for the second year in a row, fewer Pennsylvania families are beginning the winter without heat-related electric or natural gas service – or depending on potentially unsafe heating sources,” said PUC Chairman Gladys M. Brown. “Still, our Cold Weather Survey shows that thousands of our neighbors continue to struggle, and we urge those residents to take advantage of the numerous programs available to help them restore utility service and stay warm and safe this winter.”

In conjunction with the release of that report, the PUC urged consumers to contact their utilities as soon as possible about various programs to help them afford and maintain essential utility services.

The 2016 Cold Weather Survey showed the following, as of Dec. 15:

  • 6,949 residences are without safe electric heating, including 6,565 households without electric service and 384 households that are heating with potentially unsafe heating sources.
  • 15,076 residences are without safe natural gas heating, including 13,941 households without natural gas service and 1,135 households that are heating with potentially unsafe heating sources.
  • Additionally, 11,653 residences where electric service was terminated and 4,232 residences where natural gas service was terminated now appear to be vacant.
  • Note: Some households may be without both electric and natural gas service, resulting in a double-counting of some households. 

According to the survey data, the number of families without electric utility service is 24-percent lower than last winter. Further, the number of homes where electric utility service was terminated this year, and who are now depending on potentially unsafe heating sources, dropped by 7-percent compared to last winter – while the number of former natural gas customers now depending on potentially unsafe heating sources, dropped by 22-percent.

Across the state, seven of Pennsylvania’s eight major electric distribution companies reported improvements in their Cold Weather Survey data, as did five of the state’s nine natural gas distribution companies. The attached charts show the number of residential properties without service for each of the major, regulated electric and natural gas distribution companies in the Commonwealth.

“Despite the steady improvements, there are still many households in-need across the state,” said Chairman Brown. “We encourage anyone struggling to maintain their heat-related service to call their utilities as soon as possible about a variety of PUC-required assistance programs to help heat their homes or pay their energy bills – such as Customer Assistance Programs (CAPs) and Low Income Usage Reduction Programs (LIURP). According to the PUC’s most recent Universal Service Report, those assistance programs impact more than 767,000 households and are valued at over $418 million per year.”

Additionally, as part of the annual “Prepare Now” campaign, the Commission continues to appeal to utilities to increase their efforts to educate consumers about other available resources that may be available, such as grants under the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) – which is administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) – with information available through local County Assistance Offices or via the LIHEAP hotline at 1-866-857-7095.

The PUC emphasized that consumers without utility service should understand their rights and responsibilities, including additional options that may be available for those who are seriously ill or are facing other unique circumstances, such as a protection from abuse order. Consumers should call their utility first to make arrangements to pay their bill. If they are unable to reach an agreement with the utility, the PUC may be able to provide assistance. The PUC can be reached toll-free at 1-800-692-7380.

About the Cold Weather Survey

Every year, the state’s electric and natural gas distribution companies under the PUC’s jurisdiction are required to survey residential properties where service has been terminated and has not been reconnected during the course of this calendar year. Every December, the PUC releases those survey results.

As part of the survey, the utility or its representative make four attempts to contact consumers who are known to be without heat-related utility service. The attempts may include telephone calls, letters and personal visits to the residence and are done on different days of the week and at different times of the day. If the first three contacts are unsuccessful, the PUC requests that the fourth attempt be an in-person visit to the residence.

Homes using potentially unsafe heating sources are reported separately in the survey because of additional risks in those situations. According to the National Fire Protection Association, potentially unsafe sources of heat include kerosene heaters, kitchen stoves or ovens, electric space heaters, fireplaces and connecting extension cords to neighbors’ homes.


Original Press Release