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PUC Takes Major Steps To Address Energy Affordability For Low-Income Households
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On September 19, the Public Utility Commission took a pair of related actions to advance proposals focused on achieving energy affordability for the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable households.

The Commissioners voted 3-2 to adopt a joint motion by Vice Chairman David W. Sweet and Commissioner Andrew G. Place which makes a series of sweeping updates to the PUC’s Policy Statement on Customer Assistance Programs (CAPs)--  especially as it relates to lowering maximum “energy burden” thresholds for low-income individuals and families, which is the percentage of household income spent on energy usage, including heat and light.

The Commission approved a joint motion by Chairman Gladys Brown Dutrieuille and Commissioner Place by a 3-2 vote, beginning the rulemaking process to develop new CAP regulations and update existing regulations for low-income utility-operated Universal Service and Energy Conservation Programs (USECPs)-- with an emphasis on fulfilling the Commission’s mandate to “continue the protections, policies and services that now assist customers who are low-income to afford utility service.”

In their joint motion on the PUC’s CAP Policy Statement, Vice Chairman Sweet and Commissioner Place emphasized that revisions to these essential assistance programs are the result of a two-year holistic review of CAP and a thorough examination of energy burdens--  underscoring the extremely high costs facing the poorest households in the state, even with existing assistance programs.

“The (PUC’s 2019) Energy Affordability Report noted that CAP customers – despite receiving discounted payments and/or debt forgiveness – had significantly higher energy burdens on average in comparison to non-CAP customers. 

“While non-CAP customers had an average combined energy burden of 4 percent, the average combined energy burden for a CAP customer was 12 percent to 14 percent.

“The study also illuminated that CAP households with an income at or below 50 percent of the FPIG (Federal Poverty Income Guidelines), regardless of heating or non-heating status and energy type, often had energy burdens well above the limits established in the CAP Policy Statement--  for some utilities, as high as 20 percent.

“To put this into perspective, under existing policies, a customer with an annual household income of $10,000 can spend anywhere from $1,200 to $2,000 a year on electric and gas service combined.”

The policy statement amendments include a 6 percent maximum energy burden for the most vulnerable customers, noting that a household with an annual income of $10,000 could potentially save an average of $1,000 annually on electric and gas service.

“This action will have a particularly meaningful impact for the approximately 95,000 households with income from 0-50 percent of poverty enrolled in Pennsylvania utility CAPs, and all future households that would be income-eligible and in need of energy assistance,” said Vice Chairman Sweet and Commissioner Place.

The policy statement also addresses a series of other associated issues, including:

-- A multi-tiered approach to energy burdens based on a household’s level on the poverty income guidelines (0-50 percent, 50-100 percent and 100-150 percent), providing higher CAP credits to lower-income households;

-- New timelines and procedures to streamline recertification, which is the most common reason consumers are removed from CAP;

-- A standardized definition for “household income;” and

-- Enhanced consumer education and outreach plans, to help increase awareness and participation in CAP.

“Energy services, whether electric or gas, are essential for health, safety, a livable home, child development and maintaining vibrant communities throughout Pennsylvania. Energy affordability is an unsustainable burden for many thousands of Pennsylvanians and today’s action meaningfully contributes to addressing this impediment while balancing the costs of this fundamental support,” noted Commissioner Place.

Vice Chairman Sweet and Commissioner Place offered statements in support of the motion while Commissioners John F. Coleman Jr. and Norman J. Kennard offered dissenting statements.

Rulemaking

In a separate, but closely related action, the Commission directed the PUC’s staff to prepare a rulemaking which addresses all of the amendments to the CAP Policy Statement that were approved-- giving the Commission definitive tools to enforce any necessary changes to the utilities’ CAPs, energy burden levels, CAP credit limits and customer education requirements.

In addition, the rulemaking may address the Commission’s ongoing review of rules related to Low-Income Usage Reduction Programs (LIURPs), along with any other changes to ensure efficient and effective utility programs for low-income households.

That proposed rulemaking for universal service programs will be developed by the PUC’s Bureau of Consumer Services and Law Bureau, for consideration by the Commissioners during the first quarter of 2020.

Commissioner Coleman issued a dissenting statement.

For more information on this and other actions, visit the Public Utility Commission website.

NewsClips:

Maykuth: PUC Dramatically Expands Utility Assistance For Low-Income Consumers At A Cost Of  $102 Million

Anya Litvak/Laura Legener: New Utility Policy Aims To Reduce Energy Burden For PA’s Poor

Meyer: House Republicans Begin Moving Pro-Natural Gas Subsidy Package

Republicans Begin Moving Priority, Pro-Natural Gas Package

PA Republicans Unveil Package Of Proposals To Boost [Natural Gas] Energy Sector, State Economy

Meyer: With TMI Closed, Nuclear Advocates’ Concern Shifts To PA’s Other Plants

Local, State Leaders Rally To Support Nuclear Energy In Beaver County

Three Mile Island Shutdown Renews Talk Of Pennsylvania’s Energy Future

Click Here for all of last week’s Environment & Energy NewsClips

[Posted: September 19, 2019]


9/22/2019

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