The Public Utility Commission Tuesday released the results of its annual Cold Weather Survey, which showed that more than 24,175 Pennsylvania households are entering the winter season without heat-related utility service or using unsafe heating sources.
In 2014, the same survey found 23,213 homes without heat-related utilities, in 2013 19,653 and in 2012 15,983.
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 coldest months of the year have arrived and there are thousands of individuals and families across Pennsylvania currently without electric or natural gas service or relying on unsafe heating sources,” said PUC Chairman Gladys M. Brown. “We urge those residents to take advantage of the numerous programs available to help them restore utility service in order to stay connected, warm and safe this winter.”
The 2015 Cold Weather Survey showed the following, as of December 15:
-- 9,169 residences are without safe electric heating, including 8,755 households without electric service and 414 households that are heating with potentially unsafe heating sources; and
-- 15,006 residences are without safe natural gas heating, including 13,555 households without natural gas service and 1,451 households that are heating with potentially unsafe heating sources.
-- Additionally, 14,144 residences where electric service was terminated and 5,720 residences where natural gas service was terminated now appear to be vacant.
Some households may be without both electric and natural gas service, resulting in a double-counting of some households.
The PUC released charts showing the number of residential properties without service for each of the major, regulated electric and natural gas distribution companies in the Commonwealth.
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 cold weather survey results.
The survey assesses the number of households without heat-related service entering the winter months. 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 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.
As part of the PUC’s annual “Prepare Now” campaign, consumers on limited or fixed incomes are encouraged to call their utilities about programs to help heat their homes or pay their energy bills such as Customer Assistance Programs (CAPs) and Low Income Usage Reduction Programs (LIURP).
The Commission has also appealed to utilities to increase their efforts to educate consumers about other available resources, such as grants under the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program – which is administered by the Department of Human Services – 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 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.
Pennsylvanians Urged To Use Heating Assistance Programs