December 30, 2015—More than 24,175 households in Pennsylvania are entering the winter season without a safe heating source, up from last year's 23,213 households, according to the Public Utility Commission's (PUC) Cold Weather Survey Report.
Electric and natural gas utility companies within PUC's jurisdiction surveyed residential properties where service had been terminated in 2015 and had not been reconnected during the past calendar year. Of those households, 15,006 are without natural gas heating, while 9,169 are without electricity. An unknown number of those households may be without both electric and natural gas services, which may result in a double-counting of some households.
Of the households surveyed, 1,451 electricity customers and 414 gas customers are using unsafe means to heat their homes. The National Fire Protection Association warns against relying on heating sources—such as kerosene heaters, kitchen ovens or stoves, electric space heaters, and so on—as they may put the household at increased risk of structural fire.
According to Pennsylvania's winter moratorium, utility services may not be terminated between the protection dates of December 1 to April 1 for customers at or below 250 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. If the household is shut off prior to December 1, the utility must attempt to contact the customer and negotiate an agreement regarding payment of any arrearages and restoration of service.
All of the major utility companies in Pennsylvania also offer a Home Energy Assistance Program that provides discounts to qualifying low-income customers, as well as a Low Income Usage Reduction Program which helps customers lower the amount of electricity or natural gas they consume each month. Through their "Prepare Now" campaign, the PUC actively encourages all customers on limited or fixed incomes to call their utility companies to explore options available to them and to apply for LIHEAP.
Sources: Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, LIHEAP Clearinghouse, National Fire Protection Association