PUC Releases Results of Report on Home Energy Burdens for Low-Income Consumers

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) has issued a report on the results of a study regarding home energy burdens for low-income Pennsylvanians and opened a public comment period for interested parties.

The Commission voted 5-0 to release the report, “Home Energy Affordability for Low-Income Customers in Pennsylvania,” prepared by Commission staff. This report is the Commission’s starting point for an evaluation of the effectiveness of customer assistance programs (CAPs) and other Universal Service programs that are intended to help low-income consumers maintain essential utility services.

A key factor of this review involves examination of the “energy burden,” which refers to the percentage of household income that is dedicated to paying energy-related utility bills. 

“The energy burden for low-income customers in Pennsylvania is higher than most comparable states,” said Vice Chairman David W. Sweet, who issued a statement at the Commission’s public meeting.  “We now need to determine if there is sufficient funding for assistance programs and also whether there needs to be more efficient oversight of them.”

“There are questions that are yet to be answered before we can put forth a final recommendation,” said Commissioner Andrew G. Place in his statement.  “I look forward to the continued engagement with stakeholders as we progress. This continues to be an important and complex undertaking, a task to which we remain committed.”

Along with publication of the Home Energy Affordability report, the Commission requested additional information from the natural gas and electric utilities to be filed by Feb. 19, 2019. After that additional utility information has been filed, interested parties will have a 20-day period to submit written comments for consideration by the Commission (until March 11, 2019), and another 15 days for reply comments (until March 26, 2019). 

Comments and reply comments may be submitted using the Commission’s e-filing system (http://www.puc.pa.gov/efiling/default.aspx) or printed copies may be filed with the Secretary of the PUC, referencing Docket #M-2017-2587711, at the following address:

Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission
Commonwealth Keystone Building
400 North Street
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 17120

Also, as part of the review and comment process, the Commission will convene a stakeholder meeting on Feb. 6, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., in Harrisburg, to allow discussion of the report among interested parties and Commission staff.

A Universal Service Reporting Working Group consisting of Commission staff, utilities, and stakeholders will be established to address inconsistencies and limitations in utility data.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Code requires that universal service and energy conservation programs be developed, maintained, and appropriately funded to serve low-income customers. Affordability concerns have been raised in cases before the Commission – and the Commission has stated in the past that energy burden levels in Pennsylvania may be too high and that policies may need to be revised.  The Commission’s CAP Policy Statement was promulgated in 1992 and revised in 1999.

A 2017 Commission order directed staff to initiate a study to determine what constitutes an affordable energy burden for the state’s low-income households and, based on this analysis, whether any changes are needed to bring CAP and Universal Service programs into alignment with affordability recommendations.  That study resulted in the report released this week.

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.

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