Dec. 08--State regulators approved revisions in a PPL Electric Utilities program covering low-income customers who struggle to pay their bills.
The Public Utility Commission asked Allentown-based PPL earlier this year to provide more information about its "OnTrack" program, which provides debt forgiveness and lower fixed monthly payments for eligible customers. The PUC raised questions about OnTrack's rising costs, how PPL calculates customers' ability to pay when setting subsidy levels, and its efforts to get OnTrack customers to conserve energy.
PPL in October submitted a revised OnTrack plan based on PUC-required changes as part of its overall program covering universal service and energy conservation through 2019.
The PUC, in a 5-0 vote Thursday, signed off on the revisions after determining PPL's filing contained "all the clarifications, changes and information requested."
The PUC says PPL has committed to several changes in OnTrack that include stronger measures to gauge its costs. In addition, PPL will:
* Provide details to customers about the program's online application process.
* Allow customers who voluntarily leave OnTrack or are removed for nonpayment to be reinstalled in the program if they pay an unspecified catch-up amount.
* Explain more details to customers about energy conservation programs.
The PUC also noted it is still reviewing a $5 monthly fee that PPL charges OnTrack customers who have had no prior payment delinquencies. The commission said PPL has indicated it will drop the charge, but no date was specified.
"We're proud of our universal services programs, which help vulnerable customers," PPL spokesman Kurt Blumenau said. "We're pleased to receive PUC approval and be ready to put the new plan into action."
OnTrack and other programs like it, known generally across the state under the heading Consumer Assistance Program, provide help with bills based on economic circumstances. Low-income PPL customers, defined as people living below 150 percent of the federal poverty line of $12,060 for an individual or $24,600 for a family of four, can enroll in OnTrack. PPL says all residential customers pay toward OnTrack.
There's an 18-month limit to the assistance. Customers are encouraged to conserve power, but once that limit is exceeded, they are on their own to pay their bill. OnTrack works with community-advocacy groups such as Bethlehem-based Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley.
PPL Electric Utilities, a subsidiary of PPL Corp., distributes electricity to 1.4 million customers in 29 counties, including Lehigh and Northampton.
You can find information about PPL Electric's customer assistance programs at www.pplelectric.com/billhelp, or call 800-342-5775.
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