The Public Utility Commission Monday released the results of its annual Cold Weather Survey, which showed that about 19,653 households will enter the winter season without heat-related utility service compared to 15,975 this time last year.
“With the coldest months of the year are still ahead, it remains critically important for consumers without heat-related utility service to learn about the options available to allow them to reconnect service,” said Commission Chairman Robert F. Powelson.
The PUC encourages consumers without utility service to know their rights and responsibilities. Consumers should obtain information about programs available to help them restore and maintain utility service. Consumers with a seriously ill resident in the household or a protection from abuse order may have additional options for service restoration.
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.
In accordance with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Code, the state’s electric and natural gas distribution companies under the PUC’s jurisdiction must survey residential properties where service has been terminated in 2013 and has not been reconnected during the course of this calendar year.
The survey assesses the number of households without heat-related service entering the winter months. Some households may be without both electric and natural gas service, resulting in a double-counting of some households.
Every December, the PUC releases those cold weather survey results. As part of the survey, the utility or its representative must 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 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 also are counted separately because the home is not relying on a central-heating system. 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.
An additional 1,628 residences are using potentially unsafe heating sources, bringing the total homes not using a central-heating system to 21,281 according to the 2013 survey. The total number was 18,116 in 2012.
The 2013 survey results also show that as of December 16:
— 6,716 residential households remain without electric service; 12,693 residences where service was terminated now appear to be vacant; and 99 households are heating with potentially unsafe heating sources. The total electric residences without safe heating are 6,815.
— 12,937 residential households that heat with natural gas are without service; 6,070 residences where service was terminated now appear to be vacant; and 1,529 households are heating with potentially unsafe heating sources. The total natural gas residences without safe heating are 14,466.
— PGW reported that 9,049 households that heat with natural gas are without service - the highest number of all utilities. A total of 13,508 or 63 percent of the total off accounts that have no service live in the Philadelphia area.
The charts attached to the report show the number of residential properties without service for each of the major, regulated electric and natural gas distribution companies in the Commonwealth.
In an October 15, 2013 letter sent to electric and natural gas utilities under its jurisdiction, the PUC asked utilities to join it in reaching out and educating consumers as part of the PUC’s “Prepare Now” initiative. In its 11th year, the message is simple: “Prepare Now” for high energy costs this winter.
Learn about changes in the law related to utility shut-offs and know your rights. Save money by learning how to conserve energy. Heat your home safely. Explore budget billing options. Look into programs that help low-income customers restore and maintain service.
Visit the PUC’s Prepare Now webpage or call the PUC at 1-800-692-7380.
Every major utility offers a Customer Assistance Program, under which qualifying low-income customers pay discounted bills. Qualification in CAP is based on household size and gross household income.
Low Income Usage Reduction Programs help consumers lower the amount of electricity or natural gas used each month. The company may install energy-saving features in your home to help reduce bills. In addition, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) may have funds available to help eligible customers have service restored.For more information, please contact your local County Assistance Office or contact the LIHEAP hotline at 1-866-857-7095. An informational brochure also is available.