Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission
PUC Initiates Study of Home Energy Burdens for Low-Income Consumers; Recommendations May Help Shape Future Customer Assistance Programs
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) approved a motion introduced by Vice Chairman Andrew G. Place and Commissioner David W. Sweet to initiate a study regarding affordable home energy burdens for low-income Pennsylvanians.
The Commission voted 3-2 to conduct the study, which will evaluate the affordability of current energy burden levels as outlined in the Commission's 1992 Customer Assistance Program (CAP) Policy Statement. This study will serve as a starting point for evaluation of the effectiveness of CAP and other Universal Service programs by the Commission. These programs are intended to help low-income consumers maintain essential utility services.
"The Commission routinely considers complaints involving residents enrolled in CAP programs failing to keep up with payments, accumulating arrearages, facing service disconnection and loss of program eligibility," noted Vice Chairman Place in the joint motion proposing the study. "This payment, assistance and arrearage cycle is a recurrent issue for many low-income customers."
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Code requires utility services be universally affordable, and that universal service and energy conservation programs be developed, maintained, and appropriately funded to ensure such affordability. Today's motion notes that affordability concerns have been raised in cases before the PUC - and that 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 average Pennsylvanian spends 5 percent of their income on energy bills, while some low-income families experience an energy burden that is up to 30 percent of their income - even when factoring historically low energy prices," adds Commissioner Sweet. "This is why we need to revisit the equity and efficiency of Universal Service and Energy Conservation Programs, and a study examining the energy burdens of low-income Pennsylvanians is the best place to start."
The study will be conducted by the PUC's Bureau of Consumer Services, working in conjunction with other Bureaus within the Commission, resulting in recommendations concerning affordable energy burdens for low-income Pennsylvanians. A report detailing the findings of the study will be delivered to the Commission within one year.
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission balances the needs of consumers and utilities; ensures safe and reliable utility service at reasonable rates; protects the public interest; educates consumers to make independent and informed utility choices; furthers economic development; and fosters new technologies and competitive markets in an environmentally sound manner.
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