Friday, January 13, 2012

Current Pennsylvania Utility Law Promotes Shut-Offs and Limits Customer Options

Utility companies have given Joe Preston $52,525 to protect their special interest.

Since Joe Preston passage of Act 201 (also known as Chapter 14 of the Public Utility Code) in 2004, electric terminations rose 78.6 percent.

The latest Biennial Report issued by the Pennsylvania Utility Commission "PUC" concludes that terminations for the electric and gas industries have risen to “record high levels” since passage of Chapter 14.

In addition to increasing shut offs, Chapter 14 reduces the relief available to utility customers by severely limiting the number of payment agreements that the utility can be required to provide.

Each year more households struggle to have utilities reconnected on affordable terms because, in most circumstances, Chapter 14 only requires utility companies to give a customer one opportunity to enter an installment payment agreement to catch up on bills.

Chapter 14 is due to expire in 2014, which is no relief to the increasing number of customers who need another chance now to reconnect heat service or prevent shut off.

Todd Elliott Koger urges customers with shut-off notices to contact their utilities whose employees, “are obligated by law to fully explain all available methods for avoiding a termination.”

The use of public utilities pervades the life of every individual. Each time a person walks into a heated room, eats food that has been either refrigerated or cooked, or uses a light that person is likely relying on some sort of public utility.

It is important for low-income households to gain protections from the threatened or actual disconnection of utility service. Joe Preston has promised every election to "get rid" of "Chapter 14" but has done nothing.

Chapter 14 was not established with the lives of poor people in mind. Todd Elliott Koger questions why Joe Preston, since November 2004 hasn't yet voiced "established" legal theory to repeal the legislation.

For example, prohibiting the imputation of debts of one person to a third party is a doctrine based upon straight contract law. However, Chapter 14 appears to unlawfully allow utility companies the ability to transfer the liability of unpaid utility service to any adult living in the household.

Terminated customers may, for a time, attempt to struggle by without utility service to the detriment of the health of the household and safety of the neighborhood (household fire and possible death).

Eventually, families are forced to move to obtain service and costs are imposed as schools and neighborhoods are disrupted and properties are run down.

And, the costs of moving and re-initiating utility service will be drawn either from public assistance or from family reserves for other necessities -- again implicating health and safety costs which will ultimately be borne by society.