PSC protects nonpaying customers

April 13, 2001

PSC protects nonpaying customers


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HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> In Washington County, the Community Action Council manages assistance programs for the state and federal governments. It also administers a separate matching fund set up by Allegheny Power.

The Community Action Council's phone number is 301-797-4161.

Allegheny Power can be reached at 301-790-3400.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> In West Virginia, Catholic Community Services is in charge of Allegheny Power's Eastern Panhandle fund. The phone number in Martinsburg is 1-304-267-8837.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> In Pennsylvania, the Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program is available for people who need it.

The Franklin County contact numbers is 1-717-262-6579.

The Fulton County contact number is 1-717-485-3151, according to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

Despite some unusually cold spells over the winter and rising energy prices, Allegheny Power does not expect to disconnect more nonpaying customers this year than it did last year.


A Maryland moratorium on utility disconnections ended March 31, which is considered the end of the winter heating season. After that date, customers' service can be shut off after a warning period if they have not made arrangements with their utility company.

The Maryland People's Counsel had asked the state's Public Service Commission, which regulates the energy industry, to impose an emergency disconnection moratorium for all residential customers.

The PSC, however, limited the moratorium to low-income households, defined as earning no more than 150 percent of the poverty level, said Luanne McKenna, an assistant People's Counsel in Baltimore. A family of four could earn a maximum of $25,525 for the year to be eligible.

Allegheny Power does not keep track of how many customers it disconnects, but the number appears to have remained steady over the past two years, said Allen Staggers, the manager of communications.

Allegheny Power provides gas and electricity in Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia and Ohio and abides by each state's recommended guidelines for service terminations.

City Light, which serves most of Hagerstown, is subject to Maryland's guidelines.

Pennsylvania also uses March 31 as a cutoff. West Virginia and Virginia use the last day in February, Staggers said.

Utilities may terminate service before those dates under certain conditions. In Maryland, the overdue balance must be over $300 and the temperature cannot be below 32 degrees. Also, no one in the household can be over 65 or under 5 years old, or have a serious medical condition.

Pennsylvania and West Virginia have their own criteria.

However, disconnection is "the last resort in the collection process," Staggers said.

In Maryland, utilities must give customers a 14-day termination notice, Staggers said. Pennsylvania and West Virginia customers get 10 days' notice.

The utilities must provide follow-up notices, too, before actually stopping service.

Each state has an energy assistance program for customers who need help.

Staggers suggested that customers with overdue bills contact Allegheny Power as soon as they can to arrange for a payment plan or seek help from an assistance program.

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