State utilities officials have ratified emergency orders this week to prevent companies regulated by the Pennsylvania Utility Commission (PUC) from interrupting services due to customers’ income shortfalls caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, as many households and businesses have seen operations hammered by social distancing requirements.
A March 13 emergency order, ratified this week, prohibits terminations of service by electric, natural gas, water, wastewater, telecommunications and steam utilities due to nonpayment. The purpose of the moratorium is to give companies and customers the space to negotiate an agreement of payment for services that will allow consumers to receive essential utilities during the coronavirus pandemic, PUC officials said.
“I wish to clarify that the Commission’s March 13 order does not free customers who are able to pay their utility bills, from paying them,” PUC Commissioner Gladys Brown Dutrieuille said in a statement this week, speaking in support of the motion. “I am very cognizant that many Pennsylvanians have had significant impacts to their income during the pandemic. I urge customers experiencing financial difficulty to contact their service provider to explore payment options and assistance programs.”
A March 16 emergency order suspended door to door and in-person event sales activities by agents of competitive electric and natural gas suppliers in Pennsylvania’s retail energy markets. That was followed by a March 20 emergency order suspending regulatory and statutory deadlines and procedural rules affecting filing and service requirements with the PUC as well as time periods established for the commission to take any final actions.
The measures taken this month seek to balance the “needs of consumers and utilities,” while ensuring “safe and reliable utility service at reasonable rates,” PUC officials said in a statement issued Thursday. Dutrieuille said the emergency orders will remain in effect in coordination with Gov. Tom Wolf’s proclamation of Disaster Emergency, issued March 6.
“I believe that the issuance of these Emergency Orders was necessary to ensure public safety and the public interest,” Dutrieuille said. “I offer my sincerest thanks for a job well done to the dedicated staff from multiple Commission bureaus who pulled these orders together in a short time frame while working from home.”