Thursday, November 7, 2019

PUC Launches Prepare Now Campaign To Help At-Risk Consumers Address Winter Heating Expenses

On November 7, the Public Utility Commission launched its annual Prepare Now energy education program and is urging electric and natural gas utilities to identify and assist consumers who may struggle with cold-weather energy bills.
In September of this year, the PUC advanced two major proposals focused on lowering the maximum “energy burden” for low-income Customer Assistance Program (CAP) participants and ensuring effective and efficient utility programs for vulnerable consumers. 
While those changes will go into effect over the coming year, the Commissioners continue to stress that education and consumer outreach are the most direct actions utilities can take immediately to increase participation in vital assistance programs before winter weather descends on the state. 
A letter from the PUC Commissioners has been sent to all of the electric and natural gas utility companies under the PUC’s jurisdiction, underscoring the PUC’s recent efforts to address energy affordability – especially for low-income households – and also emphasizing that every utility can take actions right now to increase their outreach to at-risk consumers:
“Energy services – whether electric or gas – are essential for health, safety, a livable home, child development and maintaining vibrant communities. Energy unaffordability is an unsustainable burden for many thousands of Pennsylvanians, and while the Commission’s forward-leaning actions are intended to enhance future services, it is imperative that we work together in the short term to help consumers prepare for the coming winter,” the Commissioners wrote to energy utility CEOs.
The PUC’s 2019 Prepare Now campaign continues to focus on educating consumers about the availability of low-income programs; increasing consumer awareness of ways to reduce winter heating costs; educating consumers on energy conservation; encouraging consumers to check electric and natural gas bills and supplier contracts; and informing customers about and as resources to shop for energy suppliers and learn more about efficiency and conservation measures.
Electric and natural gas customers across the state are helping heat their homes or pay energy bills through CAPs, Low-Income Usage Reduction Programs (LIURPs) and other services. 
Low-income households may also be eligible for grants under the federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), a companion to the utility-based services.
Last year, utilities across Pennsylvania spent more than $400 million on universal service programs, not counting LIHEAP. 
Collectively, these utility programs reach nearly 300,000 electric customers and over 156,000 natural gas customers, reducing monthly energy bills; promoting weatherization and other improvements to cut energy consumption; and supporting hardship programs.
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, call the PUC Office of Communications at 717-787-5722.
For more information, visit the PUC’s Prepare Now campaign and Consumer Education webpages.
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[Posted: November 7, 2019]

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