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Essential recognizes that providing safe and reliable water and wastewater service at reasonable rates is a fundamental tenant of our mission and expressed clearly in the Human Right to Water Policy. To do this, we strive every day to operate efficiently, encourage water conservation and prudently invest in aging infrastructure. This video sheds light on how customer rates are prudently reinvested into modernized infrastructure and efficient operations, using our Pennsylvania utility as an illustrative example that can be applied across our footprint.
However, even with planning and conservation practices, there are low-income customers in our communities who have difficulty paying their bills. These issues occur in any area, regardless of the location, demographic or income distribution. In addition, a variety of issues can impact customer bills, including the condition of the infrastructure and work that has been done in the system, ability to utilize single tariff pricing, weather, irrigation, household usage or the potential of a leak. Generally, the cost of providing water service is a main driving factor behind water rates which, in turn, impact customer bills.
Essential works proactively with customers who have difficulty paying their bills, including offering payment plans and recommending conservation tips. In several states, we locally operate low-income assistance programs. For example, in Pennsylvania, Essential has launched an assistance program for limited income households designed to both reduce current monthly bills through discounts and to assist in eliminating prior arrearages through monthly bill credits for timely payments made. The program also offers water conservation kits that provide information and tools for how to use less water. In 2023, Essential implemented a water repair program, designed to assist limited income homeowners with unexpected water repairs.
Aqua Aid is a customer assistance program operated in Illinois and New Jersey through partnership with Salvation Army and NJ SHARES. Essential has actively participated in the implementation of the federally administered Low Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP) that was initiated in December 2020 and received additional funding through the American Rescue Plan of 2021. LIHWAP programs, offered in all of Essential’s 10 states, provided an important resource to low-income customers seeking assistance with their water bills.
Customers are encouraged to visit our newly updated Aqua website for a lookup tool to download a report detailing their specific rate information. Our Customer Service Center also includes helpful information on how to read your bill and how to contact us if you have any questions.
|Number of residential customer water disconnections for nonpayment, percentage reconnected within 30 days||20,577||22,147||16,437|
Note: Given the unique circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 residential customer water disconnection data is not comparable to subsequent years. Essential observed moratoriums on disconnections consistent with public utility commission guidance.
Providing gas service at reasonable rates is critical for Essential and our customers.
Pennsylvania customers may be eligible for the Customer Assistance Program, which provides monthly payments based on household income while also offering additional credits toward arrearages as each monthly payment is made. Lower income customers in Kentucky can also receive assistance with their winter heating bills through the Delta Energy Assistance Program. Pennsylvania and West Virginia customers may also be eligible for assistance through Essential’s Hardship Fund, administered by Dollar Energy Fund. The Hardship Fund brings together shareholder dollars and customer donations to provide support to those who are unable to pay their utility bill.
Essential offers the Pennsylvania Low-Income Usage Reduction Program (LIURP) to qualified residential customers. This program implements energy efficiency measures in low-income households in order to help them reduce their energy consumption. Measures include heating system improvements and replacements, insulation, caulking, weatherstripping and tank improvements and replacements. LIURP targets customers with high energy usage and accepts enrollment in a bill assistance program as a form of income qualification. The program is implemented in collaboration with Together Pittsburgh, Re-Energize Pittsburgh, the Weatherization Assistance Program and the local electric utilities. Essential partners with local nonprofits in community assistance agencies to educate them on LIURP and encourage referral of eligible customers. While the LIURP program is targeted to those living at 150% of Federal Poverty Level, we are authorized to provide services to customers up to 200% of Federal Poverty Level if there are special needs. Essential also offers emergency furnace and gas line repair and/or replacement to income-eligible customers that own their home in Pennsylvania. This program extends to some eligible renters as well.
We also encourage customers in need to apply for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, a federally funded assistance program designed to help customers with their home heating needs. States administer the program, typically through the Department of Human Services, and eligibility varies across Essential’s footprint in Pennsylvania, Kentucky and West Virginia.
Our online Program Finder guides gas customers through the process of identifying and applying for assistance. Promotion of available resources and programs is a key component of our customer communication strategy which includes using multiple channels from traditional bill inserts to email and social media. Essential has developed a comprehensive consumer education and outreach plan and partners with local social service agencies to ensure its customers are aware of these resources.
|Average retail gas rate per MMBtu for (1) residential, (2) commercial, (3) industrial customers, and (4) transportation services only||$14.49||$10.41||$8.03|
|Typical monthly gas bill for residential customers for (1) 50 MMBtu and (2) 100 MMBtu of gas delivered per year||$72.32||$57.35||$48.34|
|Number of residential customer gas disconnections for non-payment, percentage reconnected within 30 days2||18,827||27,583||1,131|
|Percentage reconnected within 30 days||57.4%||63.2%||60.9%|
1 Gas rate data disclosed pertains only to Peoples Natural Gas Division of Peoples Natural Gas Company LLC and excludes Peoples Gas Division of Peoples Natural Gas Company LLC, as well as the legal entities of Delta Natural Gas and Peoples Gas West Virginia. Peoples Natural Gas Division represents over 85% of all gas customers and is deemed materially representative for disclosure purposes.
2 Given the unique circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 residential customer gas disconnection data is not comparable to subsequent years. Essential observed moratoriums on disconnections consistent with public utility commission guidance.
Essential is consistently focused on improving the customer experience through our capital investments that impact the reliability of the services we provide; the interactions customers have with our company.
We have the resources and channels in place to respond to reports of emergencies 24/7, and we utilize social media to keep customers informed geographically. Our customer-facing websites allow for self-service options to assist customers quickly. Our water, wastewater, and gas utilities are equipped to handle calls from people who speak a language other than English. Metrics related to customer experience comprise 10% of Essential’s short-term incentive plan, to further ensure this remains as a top priority for our company’s management.
Our goal is to drive improvement in overall satisfaction, customer effort, field service experience, and first contact resolution.
Essential’s water and wastewater operations scored #1 in customer satisfaction with midsize water utilities in the Midwest region in the J.D. Power 2023 U.S. Water Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study. In 2022, Essential’s gas operations scored #1 in the overall quality of service, according to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission Customer Service Performance Report.
We are committed to efficient processes, technology, customer engagement and supplier partnerships across our Essential footprint.