New PUC Report Shows Continued Improvement in PA Households Starting Winter Without Heat-Related Utilities
Struggling Consumers Urged to Call About Heating Aid
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) today released the results of its annual Cold Weather Survey, which showed that more than 18,350 households across the state entered the winter season without heat-related utility service or using unsafe heating sources. That figure is approximately one-percent lower than last year (171 fewer households starting the winter without heat), and five-percent lower (925 fewer households) than the winter of 2017 – with improvements noted by nearly half of the state’s major electric and natural gas distribution companies.
The annual Cold Weather Survey, along with the mid-winter resurvey, serves as a “snapshot” to help gauge utility and PUC outreach about heating assistance programs. The survey tracks the number of households whose heat-related utility service was terminated during the year, and who remain without service at the start of the winter.
As a result of the direct contact that occurs between utilities and consumers during the survey process, 33,423 households had their heat-related utility service reconnected with a payment arrangement in 2019. More extensive data about utility service, including terminations; reconnections; the number of low-income and payment-troubled customers; and the size and scope of various customer assistance programs is available in the PUC’s annual Universal Service Report.
The 2019 Cold Weather Survey showed the following (as of Dec. 1):
- 5,655 residences are without safe electric heating, including 5,545 households without electric service and 110 households that are heating with potentially unsafe heating sources.
- 12,715 residences are without safe natural gas heating, including 11,663 households without natural gas service and 1,052 households that are heating with potentially unsafe heating sources.
- Additionally, 10,783 residences where electric service was terminated and 4,246 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.
The PUC remains concerned about the thousands of households who struggle to stay warm and safe during the winter. Residents experiencing financial difficulties are encouraged to contact their utilities and/or the PUC for information about numerous programs available to help restore and maintain utility service.
“We encourage consumers across Pennsylvania to work closely with their utilities to maintain their heat-related services and explore the many options available to help households that may be struggling,” said PUC Chairman Gladys Brown Dutrieuille. “There are a variety of PUC-required utility programs to help address energy costs for low-income households – such as Customer Assistance Programs, Low Income Usage Reduction Programs and utility Hardship Funds.”
According to the PUC’s most recent Universal Service Report, assistance programs impact more than 300,000 electric customers and over 156,000 natural gas customers and are valued at over $400 million per year.
As part of the annual “Prepare Now” campaign, the Commission continues to appeal to utilities to increase their efforts to educate consumers about 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 emphasizes that consumers without utility service should understand their rights and responsibilities, including 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 this calendar year. Every December, the PUC releases the survey results.
As part of the survey, the utility or its representative makes 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.
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission balances the needs of consumers and utilities; ensures safe and reliable utility service at reasonable rates; protects the public interest; educates consumers to make independent and informed utility choices; furthers economic development; and fosters new technologies and competitive markets in an environmentally sound manner.