Pennsylvania to lift last moratorium on utility shutoffs

Pennsylvania

FILE – In this Nov. 9, 2018, file photo, Pacific Gas & Electric crews work to restore power lines in Paradise, Calif. Two years to the day after some of the deadliest wildfires tore through Northern California wine country, two of the state’s largest utilities were poised Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019, to shut off power to more than 700,000 customers in 37 counties, in what would be the largest preventive shut-off to date as utilities try to head off wildfires caused by faulty power lines. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania’s Public Utility Commission on Thursday approved the lifting of its year-old moratorium preventing utilities from terminating service to all non-paying customers, adopted as Gov. Tom Wolf began ordering shutdowns to fight the spreading coronavirus.

The moratorium will lift April 1 for the state’s lower-income utility customers, but the commission also required all of its regulated utilities — including electric, natural gas, water, sewer and telephone — to give them additional payment plan options.

Utilities asked as far back as last June at least to lift the moratorium, but Democrats on the five-member panel resisted until this month, as hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid became available to renters that can be used to help pay utility bills.

Utilities had been permitted to resume disconnections last fall for residential customers above 300% of the federal poverty level, or about $79,000 in annual income for a family of four last year.

Reports from utilities on file with the commission showed a modest year-over-year increase in the number of customers who were behind on bills, as of December. Those same reports, however, showed a much bigger increase in the amount of money those customers owe.

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