Thursday, October 29, 2015

PUC Urges Utilities To Help Consumers Prepare Now For Winter, Higher Heating Bills

As part of its 13th year of “Prepare Now” education efforts, the Public Utility Commission Thursday urged utilities to take extra steps to help consumers – especially those on limited and fixed incomes – to prepare for winter heating costs.
A letter signed by the five PUC Commissioners has been sent to all of Pennsylvania’s electric and natural gas utility companies under the PUC’s jurisdiction, asking them to join the Commission in educating consumers about the many winter assistance programs and services that are available.
The letter also includes specific suggestions for utility companies and emphasizes that they have more flexibility to make allowances for payment-troubled customers than the PUC does, under the law.
The PUC’s Prepare Now campaign provides consumers with simple tips to lower their energy bills, including shopping for electricity and natural gas, as well as ways to conserve energy around the house.
It also offers information about low-income programs that help consumers restore and maintain service.
“Many utility consumers who need assistance are still unaware of the programs available to help them restore or maintain utility service. Just as the Commission will be reminding consumers who call us about the availability of such programs, we urge all utilities to increase their outreach efforts to make sure that consumers receive information about any program for which they may be eligible,” the Commissioners wrote.
The Prepare Now campaign encourages consumers on limited or fixed incomes to call their utility 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).
It also appeals to the companies to increase efforts to educate consumers about other programs, such as grants under the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) administered by the Department of Human Services.
LIHEAP applications will be accepted starting November 2.
At the same time, the Commission is reminding all parties – consumers and utilities alike – that Chapter 56 of the Public Utility Code imposes an obligation of good faith, honesty and fair dealing.
The PUC’s message is simple – Prepare Now for winter energy costs:
-- Learn more about conservation;
-- Check your electric and natural gas bills and supplier contracts;
-- Use (electric) and to shop for services;
-- Look into programs that help low-income customers maintain service; and
-- Explore other steps to reduce long-term heating and energy consumption – such as weatherization programs, the addition of insulation and/or the installation of energy efficient appliances and lighting, which many consumers can do themselves.
Consumers interested in more information about these important programs can visit the PUC’s "Prepare Now" webpage; follow social media messages that contain the #PrepareNow tag; or call the PUC at 1-800-692-7380.
Consumer outreach specialists from the PUC are active across the state, conducting or participating in workshop events, free seminars, roundtable discussions and community fairs.
During those events, plain language materials and literature designed to educate consumers about assistance programs and their rights are handed out.
Materials include information on consumer rights in dealing with terminations and reconnections, available low-income programs and tips on how to “Prepare Now” for winter.
For more information on hosting a PUC consumer outreach specialist at a community event, please call 717-787-5722.

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