As fall approaches, one of the best weather periods of the year begins. Its also a reminder to begin preparing for winter heating bills.

For families with limited incomes, Pennsylvanias Responsible Utility Consumer Protection Act (also known as Chapter 14 of the Public Utility Code) can help. Enacted in 2004, the law expires next year on its 20th anniversary. Its imperative state lawmakers reauthorize its wide-ranging protections, among the most comprehensive and customer-friendly in the nation.

Supported by utility companies, lower-income customers can seek interest-free payment arrangements and cannot lose their heat between Dec. 1 and March 31. People with serious medical conditions also are protected. If disputes arise, customers can file for relief with the Public Utility Commission.

Its working. Chapter 14 helped decrease the percentage of residential gas and electric customers in debt from 14% to 10% between 2004 and 2019. Service reconnection rates have increased from 57% to 79% (2004 to 2021). In 2021, nearly a half billion dollars was spent by utilities on related programs to help customers (https://www.puc.pa.gov/media/2188/2021_universal_service_report_rev122722.pdf).

Chapter 14 isnt only succeeding in helping customers pay their bills — its protecting everyone from rate increases. During the pandemic, we got a peek of what would happen if it was suspended: unpaid bill amounts skyrocketed to a shocking 70%.

Lets ensure all Pennsylvanians can afford to pay their heating bills. We must reauthorize Pennsylvanias Responsible Utility Consumer Protection Act.

Terrance Fitzpatrick is president and CEO of the Energy Association of PA.

*This piece can be found in various newspapers across the state including here: https://triblive.com/opinion/letter-to-the-editor-preparing-for-winter-heating-bills/