CA PUC Lessens Impact of Natural Gas Prices on Low Income
On October 27, the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) took steps to lessen the impact of rising natural gas prices on low-income customers by adopting plans that will provide greater bill protection this winter.
To help assist low-income customers, the PUC made changes to two existing programs: the California Alternative Rates for Energy (CARE), which provides discounted rates for qualifying low-income energy customers; and the Low-Income Energy Efficiency Program (LIEE), which provides weatherization and appliance replacement services for qualifying low-income customers. The changes include:
- CARE customer and LIEE participant eligibility will be expanded to 200 percent
of federal poverty guidelines (FPG). Currently, CARE and LIEE participants are limited
to 175 FPG except for elderly and disabled LIEE participants, who must be within 200
percent of the poverty guidelines.
- CARE customers may now enroll by telephone.
- No CARE customer will be dropped from the program during the winter months for
failure to recertify income eligibility.
- LIEE program enrollment is simplified in several ways to help speed up the provision
of services this winter and utilities are authorized to accelerate the replacement of
gas forced-air furnaces, leaky or broken gas water heaters, and inefficient refrigerators
and light bulbs for low-income customers.
- Utilities are prohibited from shutting off service this winter to residential
customers who make regular payments of at least 50 percent of their bills. The utilities
may require such customers to comply with a levelized payment plan to avoid shut-off,
or otherwise must provide such customers with 9-month repayment plans starting at the
end of the winter.
- Utilities are directed to waive reconnection fees and deposits for CARE customers this winter.
Natural gas utility bills are expected to be as much as 70 percent higher than comparable bills last year. These cost increases will also affect bills for electricity, since electric utilities are heavily dependent on gas-fired generation.
Source: California PUC press release