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PUC offers steps for consumers to help moderate energy costs in cold weather

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Consumers can act now to moderate energy use, control costs, consider potential savings and explore utility options

With many consumers facing higher energy costs and the potential of high winter energy bills, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) is highlighting a “Winter Utility Bill Checklist” – noting five simple ways for consumers to monitor their energy usage and explore options to manage their winter consumption expenses.

That PUC’s Winter Utility Bill Checklist encourages consumers to:

  1. Carefully review utility bills after vacation to track energy consumption, prices and energy prices.
  2. Understand the impact of cold weather on household energy consumption.
  3. Review current prices for electricity and natural gasincluding the “price to compare” tool and offers from competitive suppliers.
  4. Explore opportunities for energy savings and cost savings.
  5. #CallUtilitiesNow to investigate the possibilities for assistance and ways to deal with high bills.

“Recent price increases and ongoing fluctuations in wholesale energy prices, combined with increased energy use during cold weather, have driven up monthly utility bills for many Pennsylvanians,” PUC Chairwoman Gladys Brown Dutrieuille said. “The Commission urges consumers to remain vigilant throughout the heating season in knowing their energy consumption levels, the prices they pay for electricity and natural gas, and their options going forward to conserve energy and save on monthly utility bills.”

Review utility bills after vacation

The size of the monthly electricity or natural gas bills includes two main components:

  • Delivery/distribution rates – This charge includes the cost of operating and maintaining poles, wires, pipelines and other infrastructure that supply energy to your home or business. This part of your monthly bill supports your local utility company.
  • Generation/utility tax – This charge covers the costs of the energy (electricity or natural gas) used during the month. This energy cost for this part of the bill is determined in two ways: one, by a consumer’s contract with a competitive supplier or two, for consumers who do not trade, the utility provides energy supply at “Price to Compare” (PTC). Prices are driven by the wholesale energy market and can vary widely, especially with the currently unpredictable global demand for energy. Electricity and natural gas companies are obliged to provide energy at the lowest possible cost.

Supply/distribution rates are reviewed and approved by the PUC and typically remain constant for several years at a time.

Generation/supply tariffs are separate from the closely regulated distribution tariffs and are adjusted periodically for non-trading customers, typically every three to six months based on energy market prices – and may change more or less frequently for competitive suppliers, based on the agreement between supplier and customer on the time of registration. The PUC does not regulate prices for the energy supply portion of utility bills.

It is important to note that extreme weather, either cold or hot, can have a dramatic impact on the size of monthly electricity bills without changes in distribution rates or generation changes.

Understand the impact of cold weather

Even small changes in the outdoor temperature will affect household energy consumption and add noticeable fluctuations to the size of the monthly energy bills:

  • Heating systems work longer and harder as the temperature drops and uses more electricity.
  • Staying indoors can increase energy consumption as people spend more time using lights, appliances and other electronic devices.
  • The demand for hot water can jump in colder weatherand hot water tanks are typically the second largest energy users in homes.
  • Extreme temperatures or longer cold periods can further increase energy requirements.

Just a few days of bitterly cold temperatures can have a significant impact on the size of your electricity bill.

Review current prices for electricity and natural gas

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Every utility customer should understand what they are paying for electricity or natural gas supply, either through standard service from their utility company or a contract with a competitive power generation or natural gas supplier.

Key questions to ask include:

  • How to compare the prices of competitive suppliers with the price of the work to compare? This information can be found on the customer’s utility bill – along with information about how to shop and how to contact their supplier and supply.
  • Is the supplier contracted for a fixed or variable rate – and if the rate is variable, what are the conditions for changes in the price of the item?
  • Does the contract contain additional fees – such as fees for membership or early contract termination?
  • When does the contract expire – and what are the options for consumers when the end date of the contract approaches?

The PUC’s PAPowerSwitch and PAGasSwitch energy shopping websites provide consumers and small businesses with valuable information on how to purchase energy utility services—allowing consumers to quickly compare quotes from competing suppliers with the standard service price from their local utility and learn more about switching to a competitive supplier or revert to standard service if they choose.

Consumers are advised not to sign a contract without knowing the length of the contract, the price, whether it is fixed or variable and whether there are any fees. Here you can find information about fixed and variable rates.

Explore opportunities for energy savings and cost savings

Energy consumption is a key factor in the size of winter energy bills, and there are many ways in which consumers can control this consumption.

Energy saving tips include:

  • Pay attention to the thermostat – Every degree you raise or lower the temperature can affect energy costs by up to 3%. Also consider a programmable thermostat to automatically lower the temperature at night or while you’re away from home.
  • Keep ovens and ducts clean – Regular furnace maintenance together with clean filters and ducts helps to ensure efficient operation of your heating system.
  • Winterize your home – Adding insulation, installing storm windows and doors, and sealing cracks and air leaks can help you stay warmer and use less energy.
  • Check your hot water tank – Temperatures above 120 degrees can be a large power consumption.
  • Run full load – Waiting for a full load in washing machines and dishwashers can help reduce the use of hot water and limit the amount of energy needed to heat this water.

The PUC’s electric shopping site PAPowerSwitch.com and natural gas shopping site PAGasSwitch.com have interactive sections with more easy consumer tips for saving energy.

#CallUtilitiesNow to explore utility options

For consumers struggling with larger winter bills or overdue balances, the Commission continues to urge them to act now and #CallUtilitiesNow to explore all available options for help to help deal with higher than normal bills. Public utilities are the first and most direct mechanisms to connect struggling households with much-needed assistance. The PUC emphasized that direct conversations between customers and utilities are the best “first step.”

Utilities understand the assistance programs available in their communities for income-eligible consumers—including utility-driven customer assistance programs, national programs such as the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), and various hardship fund programs operated by utilities and non-profit organizations. Utilities can also help enroll consumers in assistance programs, guide them to other available resources, and discuss new payment plan options to address past due balances and help consumers move forward.

If a consumer is unable to resolve a problem or obtain necessary information from the tool, the consumer may contact the PUC’s Bureau of Consumer Services toll-free at 1-800-692-7380.