On Tuesday, August 25, 2020, Community Legal Services, on behalf of our client the Tenant Union Representative Network (TURN), filed a formal complaint against PECO Energy Company at the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC), for failing to abide by the terms of a settlement with TURN that require PECO to lower bills across the board for low-income individuals in its Customer Assistance Program (CAP). PECO’s CAP provides discounted bills to more than a hundred thousand low-income PECO customers who have been overcharged as a result of PECO’s failure to abide by the settlement agreement.
The terms of a 2015 settlement between PECO and TURN require PECO to calculate bill discounts for CAP customers using new, lower energy burdens (the percentage of income considered affordable for low-income customers). The negotiated settlement created a new structure for CAP to address structural issues with unaffordable bills in a previous program design.
Josie Pickens, attorney at Community Legal Services, states, “In the middle of the pandemic, PECO is setting customers up to fail by not honoring its settlement commitments. Lowering CAP customer bills is not only the right thing to do – its legally required. Struggling households are being asked to pay more, and as we near a possible end to the moratorium on shutoffs, will face unnecessary loss of service.”
Part of that settlement required PECO to calculate customer credits based on the energy burdens in the PUC’s CAP Policy Statement, and if the commission adopted new numbers, to automatically use those new energy burdens. In November 2019, the Commission did in fact lower the energy burdens in its CAP policy statement. Despite explicit language in the settlement that “[i]f the Commission changes the energy burden ranges set forth in its Policy Statement, PECO will utilize the new maximum allowable energy burden for each poverty level,” PECO is refusing to make the adjustments it is required to make, continuing to calculate credits using the old numbers.
Joline Price, attorney at Community Legal Services, states, “PECO continues to overcharge its most vulnerable customers, forcing people to choose between electricity and paying for other necessities, like food and housing. The PUC has taken action to acknowledge that lower energy burdens are necessary – yet PECO refuses to lower bills for over 100,000 CAP customers, despite a legal requirement to do so.”
Mychal Simonian and Shani Taylor, PECO CAP Customers, state “PECO is our highest bill and we’re always behind. It’s so stressful. So much depends on it. We have chronic health issues; it’s not just heat we need, but now access to AC, as well as online access to our doctors. Our teen son’s school is entirely online. We’re lucky to have this now – but if PECO cuts off our power, then what?”
As the Commission considers ending its prohibition on utility shutoffs, thousands of PECO customers in the Philadelphia region are at risk of losing electric and gas service. PECO’s failure to honor its settlement commitments is unnecessarily exacerbating the risk of shutoff for thousands of PECO CAP customers, at minimal cost to other customers.1
1 In comments to the Commission regarding changes to energy burdens in May 2019, PECO estimated the cost of adopting a 10% energy burden across the board at $2.21 per month for an average residential customer. Energy Affordability for Low-Income Customers, Docket No. M-2017-2587711 (Initial Comments of PECO Energy Company at 8). While the Commission ended up adopting a slightly lower energy burden of 6% for the lowest-income CAP customers, it is unlikely that would raise PECO’s estimate significantly.