Friday, January 25, 2019

PUC Now Accepting Comments On Home Energy Cost Affordability Report

The Public Utility Commission is now accepting comments on a report on home energy-- electric and natural gas-- burdens for low-income Pennsylvanians.  Initial comments are due March 11. (formal notice)
On January 17, the Commission voted 5-0 to release the report, “Home Energy Affordability for Low-Income Customers in Pennsylvania,” prepared by Commission staff.
The report found low-income households, even with the help of utility customer assistance programs, still had a higher energy cost burden-- 8 to 10 percent of income for heating customers-- than those not participating-- 4 percent-- regardless of heating, non-heating or energy type.
The federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which is separate from utility customer assistance programs, had a measurable impact on reducing the energy cost burden of CAP customers by approximately 5 to 6 percentage points for gas heating, 6 to 8 percentage points for electric non-heating, and approximately 7 to 9 percentage points for electric heating.
The report said these findings, however, do not meet the desired outcome called for in PUC guidance for customer assistance programs.
Although nearly 8 in 10 Pennsylvanians live in urban areas, households in rural areas may experience the highest energy burden levels due to poor housing stock, the report said. Focusing energy-efficient education and weatherization services can help to reduce the energy burden disparity in these areas and help make CAPs more effective.
The report also noted energy efficiency and conservation can play major roles in making energy bills more affordable. The impact of these programs on energy burden levels, however, was not measured as part of this study.
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 February 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 or printed copies may be filed with the Secretary of the PUC, referencing Docket #M-2017-2587711, at the following address: Public Utility Commission, Commonwealth Keystone Building, 400 North Street, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 17120.
Click Here for a copy of the report.  Questions should be directed to Joseph Magee by sending email to: or calling 717-772-1204.
Stakeholder Meeting Feb. 6
Also, as part of the review and comment process, the Commission will convene a stakeholder meeting on February 6, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., in Harrisburg, to allow discussion of the report among interested parties and Commission staff.
The meeting will be held in the Executive Chambers of the PUC, Keystone Building, 400 North Street in Harrisburg.  Parties who wish to attend should RSVP by email to: by January 31.
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 January 17.

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