FirstEnergy Pa. Subsidiaries move forward with merger plans

FirstEnergy Corp. is looking to consolidate its Pennsylvania operations. 

It currently operates Met-Ed, Penelec, Penn Power, West Penn Power, the Keystone Appalachian Transmission Co., and Mid-Atlantic Interstate Transmission LLC. As subsidiaries. 

The subsidiaries have filed a settlement agreement with the Pennsylvania Utility Commission regarding their joint application to merge the four electric distribution companies into a single consolidated operating company. 

Under the terms of the proposed settlement, income-eligible customers would receive a total of $650,000 in bill assistance over five years.  

In addition, the settlement outlines how it would track cost savings that come about through the consolidated operations. 

The settlement, if approved by the PaPUC, would help enable the path forward for the companies’ March 2023 application filed with the PaPUC that would consolidate the subsidiaries into a single legal entity called FirstEnergy Pennsylvania Electric Company (FE PA).  

The distribution companies will continue to do business publicly under the existing local brand names – Met-Ed, Penelec, Penn Power and West Penn Power. 

By consolidating, the company believes FE PA would gain greater access to capital at more favorable interest rates to invest in projects to improve customer service and further enhance the energy grid. 


Following I-95 collapse, Lehigh Rep. infrastructure bill advanced to PA House floor

In the wake of the recent collapse of I-95, the Pennsylvania House Labor and Industry Committee advanced House Bill 1449 out of committee and to the floor of the House. 

Sponsored by state Rep. Josh Siegel, D-Lehigh, the legislation would create a statewide contractor law, establishing requirements that would have to be met by companies bidding on infrastructure projects that are publicly funded. The measure would also require firms to have a state or federal registered apprenticeship program and pay the prevailing wage rate. 

“One needs to look no further than the recent collapse of I-95 and its expedient repair by our skilled tradesmen and women to know we need to seriously invest in our infrastructure and in the continued training of skilled laborers in the commonwealth,” State Rep. Jason Dawkins, D-Phila., said in a statement. 

“This legislation would ensure that Pennsylvania has a skilled craft labor workforce that will bolster our infrastructure and build our states future.” 

Also advancing out committee and to the House in H.B. 1465, which would apply the Prevailing Wage Act to investor-owned utilities, including electric, gas, sewer, and water. 

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry’s prevailing wage rates and minimum safety standards would be applied by the measure to all constructed construction work completed on underground utility systems regulated by the Public Utility Commission.

PUC and UGI agree on smaller, two-step rate increase

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) has approved a joint settlement with UGI Utilities’ Gas Division that will phase in a rate increase over two steps and at a substantially smaller rate than the company originally requested. 

The joint settlement allows for a $38 million increase in UGI revenues, effective Oct. 29,2022 to be followed by an additional $11.45 million increase, effective Oct. 1, 2023. 

 The PUC said under the terms of the settlement, the average bill for a residential customer using 73.1 cubic feet per month of natural gas will increase from a current bill of $92.49 per month to $96.93, effective Oct. 29, 2022 – and rise to $98.21, effective Oct. 1, 2023.  

That two-step process will result in a total increase in the average bill of $5.71 (6.2%) between now and October 2023, compared to a $9.39 per month (9.5%) increase that was included in UGI’s initial request. 

The settlement also includes enhancements to UGI’s customer assistance and universal service programs, including: 

  • Additional annual funding, extended eligibility, and increased maximum project size for the Low-Income Usage Reduction Program (LIURP). 
  • Expanded eligibility for UGI’s Operation Share grant program, along with additional funding for winter 2022-2023. 
  • A pilot program to identify and engage with potential low-income customers. 
  • Continued simplified application process for LIHEAP recipients seeking to enroll in UGI’s Customer Assistance Program (CAP). 
  • Continued active outreach to customers who have not recertified for CAP. 

UGI provides natural gas service to approximately 672,000 residential, commercial, and industrial customers in over 45 counties across Pennsylvania. 




PUC to lift service termination moratorium, but with repayment safeguards

With vaccines now available and a potential end in sight to the year-long COVID-19 pandemic, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission is lifting its March 13, 2020, service termination moratorium effective April 1.

However, with many small businesses and individuals still feeling the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the PUC said it has added a number of safeguards to help address past-due utility bills to help forestall service termination.

The PUC approved a plan for 2021 that provides extended payment options to help residential and small business utility customers stay connected to service while gradually paying-down past-due balances.

Today’s action by the PUC requires all commission-regulated electric, natural gas, water, wastewater, telecommunications and steam utilities to modify their existing collection policies to provide additional payment plan options for residential and small business customers.

For small business customers, a utility is required to offer a payment arrangement for a minimum length of 18 months. However, the customer can agree to or request a shorter payment arrangement and the utility can agree to a longer payment arrangement.

With similar options for shorter or longer payment arrangements, a utility is required to offer a payment arrangement length of a minimum of 5 years for residential customers with incomes below 250% of federal income guidelines (FPIG).

The FPIG income level for a family of four is $26,500 a year

The length of required agreements then goes down to as little as one year for higher income residential customers.

Under the plan, utilities will be required to submit quarterly reports to the commission for the remaining three quarters of 2021. The reports must outline the number of accounts at risk of termination; the number of service disconnections of customers with outstanding balances, plus information on the money owed compared to prior years before the pandemic.

Pennsylvania PUC to require diversity reporting from utilities

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission plans to require diversity reporting from all major electric gas, water, wastewater and telecommunications public utilities.

The commission voted 4-0 Thursday to begin the rulemaking process.

In February of this year, PUC Chair Gladys Brown Dutrieuille began an effort to reinvigorate the commission’s efforts to promote and implement effective diversity programs at utilities.

The rulemaking will build on the recommendations of the PUC’s recently revised policy statement on diversity.

It would look to require utilities under its jurisdiction to file an annual report using a standardized form to account for the number of diverse employees as well as the utility’s diversity recruitment efforts.

The new policy statement revises the definition of diversity to include minorities, women, veterans, LGBTQ and the disabled.

The commission said that the visibility given to the topic of diversity at utilities will serve to strengthen their community ties and expand utility workforce talent pools in a time of increased employee retirements.

The commission’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking will be published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin and interested parties can submit comments within 45 days of that publication.  Comments should be filed through the PUC’s eFiling System.

Copies of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking are also being served on all major jurisdictional utilities in the Commonwealth, as well as the parties involved in earlier discussions about updates to the PUC’s policy statement on diversity.

Pennsylvania PUC says Lyft should improve safety procedures

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission is calling on Lyft to strengthen background checks on its drivers.

The PUC recently reviewed the ride-share company’s background check process and raised concerns about its failure to provide data and document policies. The PUC audit was assessing the effectiveness of Lyft’s hiring, background checks and quality assurance programs.

It looked as such things as the driver sign-up process, background checks, performance evaluation, the complain process and methods to ensure compliance with Pennsylvania laws and regulations.

The report includes seven major recommendations for improvements related to background checks and rider safety.

In several of the areas, auditors noted Lyft’s inability to, or refusal to, provide specific data, including information on its policies on background checks and its overall onboarding process.

The PUC said Lyft should:

  • Enhance both its background checks and ongoing criminal monitoring;
  • Better document operating policies and procedures; and
  • Develop a partnership with others in the transportation industry to build a database to flag users that have been terminated because of serious safety issues.

It also said Lyft should track the cause of all driver deactivations and maintain a database of them.

The PUCs said the company should make improvements to its app’s safety features and use the latest technology to improve the information in the complaint investigation process and create and track performance metrics and establish goals for each of them.

In November 2016, Governor Wolf signed Act 164 of 2016, providing for permanent statewide authority for Transportation Network Companies – or TNCs – often referred to by the public as ride-hailing or ride-sharing services.

Prior to passage of that legislation, the PUC had granted temporary experimental authority for several TNCs to operate, while encouraging the development of a permanent regulatory framework to address consumer safety.

The PUC  released a report on the driver background check process used by Uber in Pennsylvania in March of last year.

Lyft responded to the report.

“We are grateful to the PUC for their partnership on this report. Throughout the Audit, Lyft provided the Commission with information about our background check process, general operations, driver onboarding, and Safety team. The Commission also met with multiple subject matter experts at Lyft. We have responded to each of their recommendations in our Implementation Plan.”

PUC plans hearings on Pennsylvania American request for $138.6M water rate increase

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission will hold hearings next month on a Pennsylvania American Water Co. proposal to raise its rates a total of $138.6 million over the next two years.

The company, which services parts of the Greater Lehigh Valley and Central Pennsylvania, is proposing an increase of $80.1 million, or 12.5%, to its total annual operating revenues for its water service effective Jan. 1, 2021 with an additional $41.7 million, or 5.8% increase effective Jan. 1, 2022.

For its wastewater division, it proposes an increase in operating revenue by $12.3 million, or 16.9%, for rates effective Jan. 1, 2021 and then additional $4.5 million, or 5.45%, effective Jan. 1, 2022.

Pennsylvania American Water said in a press release that the request follows a review of the investment needed to provide continued safe and reliable service. It noted that it proposed enhancements to its customer financial assistance program as part of the request.

Since its last request the company said it has invested $1.64 billion in infrastructure upgrades, including replacing more than 427 miles of aging water and sewer pipelines and upgrading treatment facilities, storage tanks, wells and pumping stations.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission has scheduled a series of eight virtual meetings that will be held on the WebEx platform at the following dates and times:

Pennsylvania American Water provides services to approximately 2.3 million people in 37 counties across Pennsylvania.