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PUC Urges Consumers To Call Now To Restore Utility Service
The Public Utility Commission this week released the results of its annual Cold Weather Survey, which showed that about 17,037 households will enter the winter season without heat-related utility service compared to 14,372 this time last year.

"We've had a taste of cold temperatures already this year with weather forecasts predicting more for this weekend," said Commission Chairman James H. Cawley. "This is just the start of winter heating season and not having a central heating system in the winter months can be dangerous. I urge consumers without service to take action today."

The PUC encourages consumers without utility service to know their rights and responsibilities. Consumers should obtain information about programs available to help them restore and maintain utility service. Consumers with a seriously ill resident in the household or a protection from abuse order may have additional options for service restoration.

Consumers should call their utility first to make arrangements to pay their bill. If they are unable to reach an agreement with the utility, the PUC may be able to provide assistance. The PUC can be reached toll-free at 1-800-692-7380.

In accordance with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Code, the state's electric and natural gas distribution companies under the PUC's jurisdiction must survey residential properties where service has been terminated in 2009 and has not been reconnected during the course of this calendar year. The survey assesses the number of households without heat-related service entering the winter months.

Every December, the PUC releases those cold weather survey results. As part of the survey, the utility or its representative must make four attempts to contact consumers who are known to be without heat-related utility service. The attempts may include telephone calls, letters and personal visits to the residence and are done on different days of the week and different times of the day. If the first three contacts are unsuccessful, the PUC requests that the fourth attempt be an in-person visit to the residence.

Homes using potentially unsafe heating sources also are counted because the home is not relying on a central-heating system. According to the National Fire Protection Association, potentially unsafe sources of heat include kerosene heaters, kitchen stoves or ovens, electric space heaters, fireplaces and connecting extension cords to neighbors' homes.

An additional 3,992 residences are using potentially unsafe heating sources, bringing the total homes not using a central-heating system to 21,029, according to the 2009 survey. The total number was 17,745 in 2008.

The 2009 survey results also show that as of December 15:

-- 3,669 residential households remain without electric service; 14,332 residences where service was terminated now appear to be vacant; and 80 households are heating with potentially unsafe heating sources. The total electric residences without safe heating are 3,749.
-- 13,368 residential households that heat with natural gas are without service; 7,438 residences where service was terminated now appear to be vacant; and 3,912 households are heating with potentially unsafe heating sources. The total natural gas residences without safe heating are 17,280.
-- PGW reported that 8,397 households that heat with natural gas are without service - the highest number of all utilities. A total of 10,300 or 49 percent of the total off accounts that have no service live in the Philadelphia area.

The attached charts show the number of residential properties without service for each of the major, regulated electric and natural gas distribution companies in the Commonwealth.

In an October 16, 2009 letter sent to electric and natural gas utilities under its jurisdiction, the PUC asked utilities to join it in reaching out and educating consumers as part of the PUC's "Prepare Now" initiative and Gov. Rendell's "Stay Warm PA" campaign." The message is simple: "Prepare Now" for higher energy costs this winter. Learn about changes in the law related to utility shut-offs and know your rights. Save money by learning how to conserve energy. Heat your home safely. Explore budget billing options.

Look into programs that help low-income customers restore and maintain service. Call the PUC at 1-800-692-7380 for more information. The PUC also is actively participating in Gov. Rendell's third annual Stay Warm PA campaign – "Turn Down. Seal Off. Save Up."

Every major utility offers a Customer Assistance Program, under which qualifying low-income customers pay discounted bills. Qualification in CAP is based on household size and gross household income. LIURP helps consumers lower the amount of electricity or natural gas used each month.

The company may install energy-saving features in your home to help reduce bills. In addition, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program may have funds available to help eligible customers have service restored. For more information, please contact your local County Assistance Office or contact the LIHEAP hotline at 1-866-857-7095. An informational brochure also is available.

12/21/2009

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