The Pennsylvania Utility Commission announced that it will terminate power and heat for past due customers starting on the first day of April, which affects many that cannot afford to pay their utility bills.
Pennsylvanians suffered an unusually horrific winter. As March 2014 ends, the unusually cold temperatures have not. Consistently warm temperatures are still weeks head.
PUC Chairman Robert F. Powelson stated, “Many across Pennsylvania are struggling to pay their bills. Past-due electric and natural gas bills can lead to termination as of April 1 no matter what your financial situation.”
Worst Winter in History
The 2013-2014 winter season has been rife with power outages in Pennsylvania, including a February 2014 ice storm – the second worst in history, after Hurricane Sandy – that caused an outage where at least one million Pennsylvanians were without power and heat. Days after the storm, power was not restored for 537,000 customers.
In response to the impact of the ice storm and power restoration failure, PUC spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher described downed trees and live power lines, stating: “This damage is very similar to what we see during hurricanes.”
Sustained cold temperatures, snow, and ice storms caused increased demand for all types of home heating and power usage. For many, treacherous conditions made it difficult if not impossible for work commutes. Those not paid when they are unable to get to work have experienced extreme financial hardship due to the winter weather.
The PUC issued the announcement March 27th, days before the legal protection from termination of service ends for customers at or below 250% of the Federal poverty level: March 31.
Excessively High Energy Bills in Pennsylvania?
The Public Utility Commission and the State Attorney General recently reported an unprecedented amount of complaints describing excessively high energy bills – 2,530 complaints from January 1 to February 28th. In comparison, the PUC reported 235 complaints of high energy bills in January and February of 2013.
Help and Restoring Power
The Public Utility Commission states that it will provide termination notices before shutting off power and heat, and customers can expect to pay reconnection fees and security deposits in addition to past due amounts in order to restore power.
The Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network states that utility companies must issue a 10 day termination notice before shutting off power and the utility company will attempt to contact the household three days prior to shut off.
Contact Information for Assistance with Shut Off
Pennsylvania’s Regular Crisis Program runs until April 18th and can help people in jeopardy of losing their heat. Contact your local county assistance office for more information.
If you are facing a shut off of utilities, the PUC contact number is: (800) 692 7380
For unusually high bills or other consumer complaints, the PUC contact number is: (800) 782 1110
PA Office of Consumer Advocate is: (800) 684-6560
PA Legal Aid contact: (800) 322-7572
The PUC offers utility assistance programs, contact information is provided by your county public assistance office or through the PUC web page for more information.
Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is also available for individuals and families that meet their income criteria of the federal program. They are accepting applications through April 18, 2014. You can apply through your county assistance office or through the Compass website.