PENNSYLVANIA PUBLIC UTILITY COMMISSION
Chapter 14 Implementation; Tentative Order
[45 Pa.B. 632]
[Saturday, January 31, 2015]
Public Meeting held
January 15, 2015
Commissioners Present: Robert F. Powelson, Chairperson; John F. Coleman, Jr., Vice Chairperson; James H. Cawley; Pamela A. Witmer; Gladys M. Brown
Chapter 14 Implementation; Doc. No. M-2014-2448824
By the Commission:
On October 22, 2014, Governor Corbett signed into law HB 939, or Act 155 of 2014. This law became effective on December 22, 2014. The Act reauthorized and amended Chapter 14 of the Public Utility Code (66 Pa.C.S. §§ 1401—1419), Responsible Utility Customer Protection. The Act is intended to protect responsible bill paying customers from rate increases attributable to the uncollectible accounts of customers by providing public utilities with the collection mechanisms and procedures to promote timelier collections, while protecting vulnerable customers by ensuring that utility service remains available to all customers on reasonable terms and conditions. The legislation is applicable to electric distribution utilities, water distribution utilities, natural gas distribution utilities, steam heat and wastewater utilities.
The amended Chapter 14 supersedes a number of Chapter 56 regulations, and the Commission is directed to revise Chapter 56 and promulgate regulations to administer and enforce Chapter 14. Five years after the effective date and every five years thereafter, the Commission also must report to the General Assembly regarding the implementation and effectiveness of the amended Act. Chapter 14 expires on December 31, 2024, unless reenacted.
As the initial step of the implementation process, on December 10, 2014, the Commission issued a Secretarial Letter alerting all affected utilities to some of the more significant provisions of Chapter 56 that have been superseded by Act 155.1 On that same day, the Commission issued another Secretarial Letter directed to steam heat, wastewater and natural gas distribution utilities reminding them that Act 155 now makes Chapter 14 applicable to all of these entities.2
As noted above, ultimately the Commission will promulgate a rulemaking to revise Chapter 56. Parties will have an opportunity to participate in this proceeding where the Commission will consider and decide upon a number of issues related to Act 155. However, a rulemaking is a lengthy process, and we are aware of some issues in Act 155 that may be in need of more immediate Commission guidance as to their implementation and interpretation. We propose to start addressing these more urgent issues via this tentative implementation order.
In reviewing Act 155, the following two issues are in the most need of immediate attention:
• Section 1403, Definition of Medical Certificate: The Commission is approving the ''form'' that a medical certificate must take.
• Section 1410.1(3) and (4): Utility reporting requirements concerning accounts with arrearages in excess of $10,000.00 and annual reporting of medical certificate usage.
Although we consider these two issues to be the most pressing, we understand that this is an on-going process and that other implementation issues may need to be resolved either in the rulemaking or another Commission proceeding. As such, parties are invited to suggest other Act 155 implementation issues in response to this Tentative Order that they think the Commission needs to address sooner rather than waiting for the conclusion of a rulemaking.
1. Section 1403, Definition of Medical Certificate:
Section 1403 defines ''Medical Certificate'':''Medical Certificate.'' A written document, in a form approved by the commission:(1) certifying that a customer or member of the customer's household is seriously ill or has been diagnosed with a medical condition which requires the continuation of service to treat the medical condition; and(2) signed by a licensed physician, nurse practitioner or physician's assistant.
This is a priority item that needs to be addressed because the General Assembly is clearly directing the Commission to approve the ''form'' of a medical certificate. Also, medical certificates and their use have important public health and safety implications, making timely Commission guidance all the more critical. Medical certificates can be used by customers to prevent their service from being terminated or to have service restored more quickly. Medical certificates are intended to assist vulnerable consumers with serious health conditions maintain utility service. However, they are not intended to allow a customer to avoid paying for the service. Thus, we remind everyone that, under our regulations, consumers have the responsibility to ''make payment on all current undisputed bills or budget billing amount'' while under the protection of a medical certificate (see 52 Pa. Code § 56.116 relating to duty of customer to pay bills). Failure of a customer to comply with this requirement can result in the utility restricting the customer to an original medical certificate and two renewals (see 52 Pa. Code § 56.114 relating to length of postponement; renewals). Further, a utility can petition the Commission to waive a medical certificate (see 52 Pa. Code § 56.118 relating to right of public utility to petition the Commission).
We invite parties to comment on what ''form'' should be sufficient for a medical certificate. In preparing their comments, we ask parties to keep in mind that the ''form'' of a medical certificate needs to be convenient for customers and medical professionals to use and understand, especially given the time-demands upon medical professionals. At the same time, medical certificates have to include the information necessary for the utility to effectively and equitably apply the medical certificate regulations.
We also note that while the regulation uses the word ''form''—this does not necessarily mean literally a ''form.'' The phrase the statute uses is ''in a form approved by the commission''; not ''on a form approved by the commission.'' 66 Pa.C.S. § 1403 (emphasis added). For example, the form may be a letter from a licensed physician or nurse practitioner. We invite parties to comment on what information a medical certificate should contain. We further invite parties to comment on the adequacy of the information requirements standards contained in the current regulation at 52 Pa. Code § 56.113:
§ 56.113. Medical certifications.Certifications initially may be written or oral, subject to the right of the public utility to verify the certification by calling the physician or nurse practitioner or to require written verification within 7 days. Certifications, whether written or oral, must include the following:(1) The name and address of the customer or applicant in whose name the account is registered.(2) The name and address of the afflicted person and relationship to the customer or applicant.(3) The nature and anticipated length of the affliction.(4) The specific reason for which the service is required.(5) The name, office address and telephone number of the certifying physician or nurse practitioner.
Until the Commission addresses this matter in a Final Order, utilities should continue to use their current medical certificate procedures, as long as they now also accept medical certificates from physician assistants as well as physicians and nurse practitioners. Upon review of the comments, the Commission will provide guidance in a Final Order as to the acceptable ''form'' for a medical certificate. This guidance will remain applicable until this matter can be more fully addressed in a Chapter 56 rulemaking that will conclude with new, codified regulations.
2. Section 1410.1(3): Utility Reporting Requirements re: Accounts Exceeding $10,000 in Arrearages:
Section 1410.1(3) has an important new utility reporting requirement, one that presents utilities and the Commission with many questions:(3) The public utility shall have an affirmative responsibility to attempt to collect payment on an overdue account. The utility shall report to the commission annually residential customer accounts which have accumulated $10,000 or more in arrearages and shall demonstrate what efforts are being taken to collect the arrearages. Failure to make reasonable attempts to collect payments on overdue accounts with arrearages in excess of $10,000 may result in civil fines or other appropriate sanctions by the commission.
Providing guidance on this requirement is a priority because, as with most reporting requirements, utilities will need time to prepare their systems to collect and report the information needed to comply with the requirement. We understand that with the varied information technology resources available at each utility, and with many competing demands upon those resources, the sooner we can provide utilities with the guidance they need, the better. Waiting until the conclusion of a rulemaking to provide this guidance could unnecessarily delay the collection or processing of this data. Also, providing early guidance will help to ensure that the information obtained by the Commission will be more consistent across different utilities.
This reporting requirement appears to differ significantly from the traditional utility reporting requirements in that most traditional reporting requirements consist of aggregate data (numbers, sums, totals, averages, etc.). However, with the direction to report annually ''residential customer accounts which have accumulated $10,000 or more in arrearages,'' it appears that the General Assembly envisioned the reporting of specific accounts in lieu of ''number of accounts'' or ''averages.'' We invite parties to submit their opinion as to this interpretation of the statute.
If this section is interpreted to mean that utilities are expected to submit account specific data, this presents us with another series of questions. If specific customer accounts are to be reported to the Commission, what information concerning these accounts is needed and appropriate? The information reported has to be sufficient for the effective monitoring of utility collection practices pursuant to the General Assembly's directive. However, we also want to be sensitive to customer privacy, especially considering that the Commission must comply with the Commonwealth's ''Right to Know'' law.3 We welcome comments discussing how to report the necessary information without compromising the customers' privacy.
The statute specifies that this reporting should take place ''annually,'' but other than this directive, the statute is silent as to the precise timing and methodology. We welcome comments discussing whether the Commission should designate an annual ''snapshot'' date for these reports and whether that date should be coordinated with other reporting requirements. We also welcome comments addressing alternatives to the ''snapshot'' approach
Regardless of when the reporting is required, we understand that we must provide guidance as to what data is to be reported. While ''arrearage'' is an obvious data point, we welcome comments addressing the data necessary for the Commission to effectively monitor utility collection actions with these accounts, such as: (1) the average bill; (2) the time period that the arrearage accumulated; (3) the number of payment arrangements for the account; (4) the number of Commission informal and formal complaints; (5) the rate class; (6) whether the ratepayer is the landlord; etc. Although the Commission may require additional information on any given account, including specific essential data points will keep additional data requests to a minimum.
We also request comment on when this reporting requirement could go into full effect. The utilities will need to have in place the programming and mechanisms in advance to collect the data that we expect. The Commission could put in place an interim reporting requirement consisting of basic data already available from current utility systems—while the utilities put in place the tracking and reporting mechanisms needed to provide the more detailed, uniform reporting we ultimately expect. Likewise, we request comments on the format of the reporting, be it uniform spreadsheets or some other kind of electronic data submission, similar to what is in place for 52 Pa. Code § 56.231 reporting. The amount of sensitive information included in the report could also impact the choice of formats—with a more secure format obviously needed if sensitive information is included.
Finally, the statute directs the Commission to use the information reported to assess the collection practices of utilities, and that ''[f]ailure to make reasonable attempts to collect payments on overdue accounts with arrearages in excess of $10,000 may result in civil fines or other appropriate sanctions by the Commission.'' We do not think it necessary to provide further guidance as to this other than to point out that the Commission has available to it the usual enforcement mechanisms and the penalties provided for in 66 Pa.C.S.A. § 3301. Such enforcement actions and penalties would only be assessed after providing all involved parties' full due process Commission procedures. However, if any party thinks the Commission needs to provide additional guidance on this matter, we invite them to comment.
To assist parties in framing their comments, and after considering all of the above aspects of this reporting, we will propose the following as a possible interim guideline for utilities in complying with the new reporting requirement at Section 1410.1(3):
• Utilities shall examine all of their residential accounts (a ''snapshot'') at the conclusion of each calendar year. Any account with an arrearage at or exceeding $10,000 at that time shall be reported to the Commission by March 1 of the following year.
• Each account reported should be identified to the Commission with a unique label that the utility can match to the account in question. Customer names, addresses, account numbers or other information that could be used to identify the customer shall not be included.
• The information concerning each of the accounts shall include: account balance as of the time of the ''snapshot'' and the time period over which that arrearage accrued (in years or months). For that time period, the average monthly bill amount; number of Commission informal or formal complaints; and the number of company payment arrangements.
• Reporting should begin, under these interim guidelines, with calendar year 2015—the first annual report would be due to the Commission by March 1, 2016.
• The Commission may request more detailed follow-up information on specific accounts.
• Reports shall be filed with the Commission's Secretary under the docket number for this order. An electronic courtesy copy shall be provided to the Director of the Bureau of Consumer Services at the same time.
• Reports shall be formatted per a specific spreadsheet format provided by the Commission. The Commission will provide this format by the end of calendar year 2015.
Again, the above is simply a proposal intended to assist parties in framing their comments to us. Upon careful review of the comments, the Commission will, in a Final Order, issue interim guidelines that will be in effect until these matters can be fully explored in a Chapter 56 rulemaking.
3. Section 1410.1(4): Utility Reporting Requirements re: Medical Certificates.
Section 1410.1(4) is a new utility reporting requirement:(4) The public utility shall report to the commission on an annual basis the number of medical certificates and renewals submitted and accepted in the service territory.
This reporting requirement is similar to many of the traditional reporting requirements found in 52 Pa. Code §§ 56.231 and 54.75 in that it is asking for an aggregate number. However, there may be questions as to what is intended by ''renewals submitted and accepted'' and as to when this annual reporting requirement should start. We invite the parties to comment on these issues, and to assist parties in framing their comments, we offer the following proposal:
• At the conclusion of each calendar year, the utility shall count the number of medical certificates offered and/or accepted for the previous 12 months.
• At the conclusion of each calendar year, the utility shall count the number of accounts that had a medical certificate offered and/or accepted for the previous 12 months.
• The medical certificates shall be classified and reported as: number of initial medical certificates submitted and the number of initial medical certificates accepted; number of renewal medical certificates submitted; and number of renewal medical certificates accepted.
• This data shall be submitted to the Commission's Secretary under the docket number of this order by March 1 of the following year. An electronic courtesy copy shall be provided to the Director of the Bureau of Consumer Services at the same time.
• The data shall be formatted per a specific spreadsheet format provided by the Commission. The Commission will provide this format by the end of calendar year 2015.
• Reporting shall begin, under these interim guidelines, with calendar year 2015—the first annual report would be due to the Commission by March 1, 2016.
We emphasize that the above is a proposal intended to assist parties in framing their comments to us. Upon careful review of the comments, the Commission will issue interim guidelines in a Final Order that will be in effect until these matters can be fully considered in a Chapter 56 rulemaking.
The above reflects what the Commission sees as the most time-sensitive matters in implementing Act 155 or matters that cannot wait until a Chapter 56 rulemaking is fully promulgated. However, if any party thinks that there are other issues that need immediate attention, we invite them to identify those issues in their comments. Upon review of the comments, the Commission will determine if there are other issues that will need to be addressed in subsequent implementation orders. Ultimately, the Commission expects to address all the issues in a Chapter 56 rulemaking that it will initiate in 2015 to bring the Chapter into alignment with Act 155; Therefore,
It Is Ordered That:
1. This Tentative Order be published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin and issued for public comment.
2. Interested parties shall have 30 days from the date of publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin to submit written comments with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.
3. This Tentative Order shall be served on all jurisdictional electric, natural gas, water, wastewater and steam heat utilities, the Office of Consumer Advocate, the Office of Small Business Advocate and the Commission's Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement.
4. The contact persons for this matter are Dan Mumford, Bureau of Consumer Services, (717) 783-1957 or email@example.com or Patricia T. Wiedt, Law Bureau (717) 787-5755 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Pa.B. Doc. No. 15-179. Filed for public inspection January 30, 2015, 9:00 a.m.]
1 See Secretarial Letter re: Act 155 of 2014 Implementation and 52 Pa. Code Chapter 56. Docket No. M-2014-2448824 (December 10, 2014).
2 See Secretarial Letter re: Act 155 of 2014 Applicability and Implementation. Docket No. M-2014-2448824 (December 10, 2014).
3 Pennsylvania Right to Know Law (RTK), 65 P. S. §§ 67.101, et seq. For more information on the PUC's ''Right to Know'' procedures, see http://www.puc.pa.gov/filing_resources/obtain/file_information/right_to_know_policies_and_procedures.aspx.
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