How Bad Are PA Utility Shut Offs Really?
When the COVID-19 crisis hit in March, 2020, the PA PUC enacted an emergency order to prevent utilities from shutting off customers for not paying. The state’s utilities also announced how they would help customers set up payment plans to get through the hardship.
Beginning April 1, 2021, utilities resumed shutting off customers who had not paid their bills. Because many customers had lost jobs and income, many expected a deluge of shut offs. But, according to reports from PECO and the PA PUC, there was no “tidal wave” of shut offs.
Since April 1, the utilities have shut off service to 116,000 PA electricity customers for not paying. Yes, that certainly is a lot of people losing their electrical service. But, PA’s utilities report shutting off non-paying customers at a slower rate than they did in 2019.
- According to account reports filed with the PUC, PECO turned off power to 25,088 residential customers in April 2021. While that sounds drastic, PECO shut off more residential customers, a total of 39,515, in 2019. Also, twice the number of commercial and industrial customers faced shut offs for nonpayment in 2019 versus those in 2021.
- First Energy Utilities (Met Ed, PenElec, Pen Power, and West Penn Power ) also reported more customers risked shut offs in 2020 than in 2021.
- UGI reported much the same with 71,219 of its energy customers at risk in April, 2019, but only 56,720 in April, 2021.
- PPL reported that in April 2019 a total of 109,161 residential accounts faced shut offs. However, in April 2021, 111,751 residential accounts were in trouble; PPL disconnected only 266.
High PA Utility Bills
Certainly these shut off statistics sound encouraging. However, customers must pay their utilities for the electricity and natural gas they used during the period. But even though utilities announced payment plans when the crisis began, most customers who owed put off setting them up. And the amount they owed to their utility just piled up.
At rough estimate, an average PECO Price to Compare customer using 864 kWh per month during the period paid about $100 per month. That means that for the period from March 2020 to April 2021, that customer could owe about $1200 or more.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that $479 million in unpaid bills at the end of June. That’s 41% over 2019 levels. Both residential and commercial unpaid balances are 54% higher than last year. PECO reports that only 2% of its overdue customers actually set up payment plans. And, by the beginning of June, some 146,000 customers (9% of the total) owed PECO.
PA PUC Payment Help Program
In March, the PUC set up the #CallUtilitiesNow program to get customers to call their utility for help to pay their bills. Depending on income, customers can get up to 5 years to pay off the amount they owe.
However, the program will not last for much longer. Customers who still owe and haven’t set up a payment plan need to get moving on this. The deadline to set up a payment plan with their local utility ends September 30, 2021.
If you need help paying energy bills, contact your your local utility and set up a payment plan now.