With costs for electric generation increasing on June 1 for many utility customers, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) reminds consumers they have options to manage anticipated higher bills and, in particular, stresses that consumers currently struggling to pay monthly bills should act now and seek assistance by contacting their utility.
Through its ongoing #CallUtilitiesNow campaign, the Commission continues to emphasize that direct conversations between struggling customers and utilities are the best "first step" in addressing outstanding bill balances and discussing utility assistance programs.
As the summer cooling season approaches, now is the time for consumers to assess energy usage, explore ways to improve energy efficiency and conservation around their home or business, and review current electric bills and supplier contracts to help moderate the potential impact of higher summer usage and increases in electric generation costs.
For consumers struggling with paying utility bills, the PUC continues to encourage them to contact their utilities. Public utilities are the first and most direct mechanisms to link struggling households with much-needed assistance – whether those financial difficulties are related to the COVID pandemic, the ongoing state and national recovery or other challenging circumstances.
Utilities understand the assistance programs available in their communities for income-qualified consumers – including utility-run Customer Assistance Programs, national programs like the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, and various hardship fund programs operated by utilities and non-profit organizations. Utilities also can help enroll consumers in assistance programs, guide them to other available resources and discuss new payment plan options to address overdue balances and help consumers move forward.
Managing energy usage
Energy usage is a key factor in the size of summer energy bills, and there are many ways that consumers can control that usage. Energy saving tips include:
Pay attention to the thermostat – Every degree you raise or lower the temperature could impact energy costs by up to 3 percent. Also, consider a programmable thermostat to automatically raise temperatures while you are away from home.
Have your air conditioner serviced – Regular air conditioner maintenance along with clean air filters help ensure efficient operation of your cooling system.
Insulate and seal leaks around your home – Adding insulation, installing storm windows and doors, and sealing cracks and air leaks can help you stay cooler and use less energy.
Install or repair ceiling fans in high-trafficked rooms – Use ceiling fans to circulate the air, keeping the room and you cooler.
Protect windows to reduce heat buildup – Smart landscaping and exterior window coverings are just two ways that you can better protect windows and reduce the impact of heat buildup in your home.
The PUC's electric shopping website, PAPowerSwitch.com, has interactive sections with more easy consumer tips for saving energy.
Electric generation suppliers
In most areas of Pennsylvania, consumers can choose who supplies their electricity, based on price or other factors, such as renewable energy.
Beginning June 1, most Pennsylvania regulated electric utilities are adjusting the price they charge for the generation portion of customers' bills for non-shopping customers, also known as the "Price to Compare" (PTC). The PTC averages 40 percent to 60 percent of the customer's total utility bill. However, this percent varies by utility and by the level of individual customer usage.
Electric distribution companies report the following changes in their PTCs on June 1 for residential customers:
Citizens' Electric, up from 7.3995 cents to 9.3667 cents per kWh (26.6%); Duquesne Light, up from 7.98 cents to an estimated 9.36 cents per kWh (17.3%); Met-Ed, up from 6.832 cents to 7.936 cents per kWh (16.1%); PECO, up from 7.066 cents to 7.637 cents per kWh (8.1%); Penelec, up from 6.232 cents to 8.443 cents per kWh (35.4%); Penn Power, up from 7.082 cents to 8.694 cents per kWh (22.7%); PPL, up from 8.941 cents to 12.366 cents per kWh (38.3%); UGI Electric, up from 8.854 cents to 12.903 cents per kWh (45.7%); Wellsboro Electric, up from 7.7569 cents to 9.592 cents per kWh (23.7%); and West Penn Power, up from 5.667 cents to 8.198 cents per kWh (44.6%).
*Note: Energy price changes for Pike County Light & Power are still being calculated.
The PUC notes that the commission does not regulate prices for the generation portion of electric bills. For those customers that do not shop, electric utilities obtain default generation service using a procurement process overseen by the PUC – the electric utility in effect "shops" for the customer. Generation prices are separate from the closely regulated rates that utilities charge for their distribution services – the delivery of electricity to homes and businesses.
Another alternative for default service customers not participating in the competitive electricity market may be their utility's voluntary Standard Offer Program (Standard Offer) – providing those customers with the option of receiving service from a competitive supplier at a fixed-price that is 7 percent below the utility's current PTC. The Standard Offer price is fixed for one year and can be canceled by the customer at any time with no early cancellation or termination fees.
The commission notes that Standard Offer may not be available in areas where no competitive suppliers are participating in the local utility's program.
Understanding your contract
Consumers should make sure that they understand all terms and conditions contained in their supplier contract. The terms and conditions are found in the contract's disclosure statement – including any terms and conditions for terminating a contract.
Consumers that already have an agreement with an electric supplier, and want to switch to a different supplier, should carefully review their contract's disclosure statement to see if there are any penalty/switching fees or cancellation fees. Call your current supplier if you are not sure.
Additionally, consumers should be aware that suppliers may also elect to cancel a contract and return them to default service with their utility. Such a contract cancellation is permissible, provided that the supplier complies with the terms and conditions of the contract's disclosure statement. If a contract is canceled by either the customer or the supplier, then the customer is returned to default service with the local utility and service is never interrupted.
Consumers who have questions or dispute such a contract cancellation may contact the PUC's Bureau of Consumer Services at: 1-800-692-7380. More information on understanding a contract with an electric generation supplier and electric switching can be found online at: PAPowerSwitch.com.