PUC Highlights 2020 Accomplishments At Final Meeting Of 2020

On December 17, as part of its final public meeting for 2020, the Public Utility Commission fulfilled a longstanding custom of highlighting some of the agency’s major accomplishments over the past year.

“Coming into 2020, none of us could have foreseen what the year ahead would bring – a pandemic causing far-reaching concern and economic hardship for consumers, businesses and communities,” said Chairman Gladys Brown Dutrieuille. “Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the PUC has remained fully operational with staff working remotely.  On behalf of my fellow Commissioners, I thank all PUC staff for their work, dedication and professionalism, and we extend our heartfelt gratitude to sister state agencies, consumer advocates, industry stakeholders and regulated utilities that we worked alongside in getting through a very challenging year.”

PUC Actions Related to COVID-19

The Commission’s many critical functions were immediately transitioned to the telework environment, including:

-- Telephonic public meetings – The PUC successfully conducted every PUC Public Meeting that was scheduled for 2020, even with the challenging circumstances;

-- Telephonic evidentiary and public input hearings;

-- Telephonic and virtual meetings of the Damage Prevention Committee;

-- Telephonic and virtual meetings of the Consumer Advisory Council;

-- A remote consumer services hotline; and

-- Fiscal transactions and the eFiling of documents with the Commission. These innovations permitted the Secretary’s Bureau to:

     -- Continue functioning at normal levels and process approximately 25,000 filings;

     -- Serve more than 10,000 documents; and

     -- Respond timely to more than 100 Right-to-Know requests during the pandemic emergency.

Beyond teleworking, the PUC successfully implemented its Continuity of Operations Plan – or COOP. 

As early as February, the PUC’s Emergency Preparedness staff engaged the utilities to communicate that the Commission had begun planning – and to apprise them to review their COOP plans as well.

The Commission also needed to reinvent the way it communicated both internally and externally, and transitioned its consumer education to largely virtual, with a heavier focus on online, videos, social media and infographics.

In response to the Governor’s Emergency Disaster Declaration, the Commission issued:

-- Three Emergency Orders declaring a moratorium on termination of service by all jurisdictional utilities;

-- A suspension of door-to-door and in-person marketing by energy suppliers – which we have since modified twice; and

-- A suspension of regulatory and statutory deadlines.

Additional Accomplishments and Successes

The Commission achieved many important successes on several other fronts, including:

Diversity at Major Jurisdictional Utilities - Amending the PUC’s Policy Statement on Diversity at Major Jurisdictional Utilities to further define diversity and other changes – and launched a rulemaking process to require regular reporting on diversity programs and efforts by major utilities under the Commission’s jurisdiction.  

-- Broadband Issue

-- Partnering with other Commonwealth agencies and stakeholders, as well as Penn State University Extension, to help Pennsylvania secure more than $368 million in FCC funding over the next 10 years to bring high-speed internet service to underserved homes and businesses;

-- Granting ETC designations to five separate companies that had secured federal funding; and

-- Advancing the process to assume jurisdiction over pole attachments - as well as the approval of the first-ever, all-services distributed overlay for the 814 area code.

-- Consumer Issues

-- Addressing energy affordability for low-income customers by revising policy on Customer Assistance Programs;

-- Launching a new Commission website designed to make navigation easier; enhance searches; allow content to be viewable on any device; and create a clean, modern look and feel. The PUC also continues to enhance PAPowerSwitch and PAGasSwitch for electric and natural gas shopping;

-- Reaching front-line community partners through virtual educational train-the-trainer conferences during our annual Be Utility Wise consumer- education conferences. Our in-person events reached more than 1,200 participants, and we are now moving these conferences to virtual platforms; and

-- Taking steps this fall to enhance safeguards for income-qualified consumers – while also continuing to monitor COVID-19 impacts on consumers and small businesses – and laying the foundation for future discussions about how to best address the role of utilities and utility assistance in our state and national recovery.

-- Water/Wastewater Issues

-- Bringing uniformity to lead water line replacement – further addressing lead service pipes and damaged wastewater lateral replacement issues.

-- Cybersecurity Issues

-- Continuing to ensure that regulated utilities protect themselves from cyber-attacks and connecting utilities with emergency response efforts.

-- Safety Issues

-- Stepping up consumer education on electric safety, safe digging and delaying the start of non-essential home digging projects to enhance safety and avoid accidental damage to underground lines that could disrupt utility services during a stressful time; and

-- Taking actions against underground facility owners, excavators and project owners as part of our PA One Call enforcement jurisdiction, noting that the Damage Prevention Committee recently addressed the largest number of cases in its meeting history, with eight discussion cases and 70 omnibus cases during its Dec. 15 virtual Teams meeting.

-- Alternative Ratemaking

-- Adopting a Distribution Rates Policy Statement on factors the Commission will consider when utilities propose alternative ratemaking mechanisms and rate designs in distribution base rate proceedings.

-- Act 13 Drilling Impact Fees

-- Distributing the largest amount in impact fees – more than $250 million this year – pushing the eight-year total to nearly $1.7 billion collected and distributed to communities across the state.

-- Electric Retail Markets

-- Amending the customer information disclosure regulations at Chapter 54 to enhance customer protections and give them the information necessary when shopping in the state’s competitive retail electricity market;

-- Audits

-- Releasing 21 reports covering 79 years of adjustment clauses, and reviewing and approving approximately 375 adjustment clause filings. Management Audit staff released three MEI reports, one Management Audit, and the 516 annual report at Public Meeting for Calendar Year 2020. The PUC also released its driver background check review report for Lyft.

For more information, visit the Public Utility Commission website.

Related Article:

-- PUC Moves To Require Diversity Reporting by Public Utilities

Related Articles - PUC:

-- PUC Bureau Of Investigation Proposes $1 Million Penalty For Multiple Violations That Led To Explosion Of Revolution Natural Gas Pipeline In Beaver County

-- PUC Invites Comments On Electric Storage Policies To Increase Reliability And Resiliency Related To Increasingly Frequent Weather-Related Threats

-- PUC Moves To Require Diversity Reporting by Public Utilities

-- Public Utility Commission Offers Winter Storm Safety Tips

[Posted: December 17, 2020]


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