PENNSYLVANIA PUBLIC UTILITY COMMISSION
Harrisburg, PA 17105-3265
Public Meeting held July 15, 1999
Robert K. Bloom, Vice Chairman
David W. Rolka
Nora Mead Brownell
Aaron Wilson, Jr.
Tentative order Re: Guidelines for
Maintaining Customer Services at
the Same Level of Quality Pursuant
to 66 Pa. C.S. §2206(a), Assuring Docket No. M-00991249F0003
Conformance with 52 Pa. Code Chapter 56
Pursuant to 66 Pa. C.S. §2208(e) and (f) and
Addressing the Application of Partial Payments
BY THE COMMISSION:
On June 22, 1999, Governor Tom Ridge signed into law the Natural Gas Choice
and Competition Act (Act). The Act revised the Public Utility Code, 66 Pa. C.S. §§101,
et seq., by inter alia, adding Chapter 22, relating to restructuring of the natural gas utility
industry. The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (Commission) is the agency
charged with implementing the Act.
With respect to consumer protections and retail customer service functions, the Act
is clear in its intent that customer services are to be maintained at the same level of quality
under retail competition. Section 2206(a) of the Act states that “Customer service and
consumer protections and policies for retail gas customers shall, at a minimum, be
maintained at the same level of quality under retail competition as in existence on the
effective date of this chapter." Further, Section 2208(e) requires natural gas suppliers to
comply with applicable portions of 52 Pa. Code Chapter 56, and Section §2208(f)
provides that the Commission must ensure compliance by suppliers with applicable
portions of the Chapter 56 standards. Section 2207(b) imposes the same obligation to
adhere to 52 Pa. Code Chapter 56 on service furnished by the supplier of last resort (SLR).
Additionally, Section 2205(5) requires the Commission to issue guidelines addressing the
application of partial payments.
The purpose of the instant tentative order is to propose guidelines relating to
maintaining the current quality of customer services, compliance with the Chapter 56
standards and the application of partial payments. The proposed guidelines appear in
Appendix A of this order. We believe that the guidelines will aid parties in assuring that
residential customer services do not deteriorate as a result of retail competition. It is our
view that the subject matter of these guidelines require the application of uniform policy
determinations across the local distribution service territories. Interested parties are
encouraged to file comments with the Commission. Such comments must be filed with the
Commission no later than July 30, 1999.
The proposed guidelines in Appendix A relate to utility/supplier/residential
customer interactions, most of which require application of the Chapter 56 residential
service standards. Regarding these standards, the history of compliance by fixed utilities
since 1978 with the detailed Chapter 56 standards reflects a level of quality of customer
service functions that the Act both recognizes and mandates be maintained. We believe if
all parties implement practices which conform with Chapter 56 when they engage in an
activity covered by these residential service standards, then customer services under retail
gas competition will be maintained, at a minimum, at the same level of quality in existence
on the effective date of the Act. The proposed guidelines address billing and payment
standards, metering and meter reading, applications for initiation of service, credit and
deposit standards, discontinuance of service and service interruptions, termination and
payment agreements, supplier of last resort function, complaint resolution, restoration of
service, and the application of partial payments.
The Commission will use the comments to this tentative order to develop guidelines
to assure that customer services are maintained at the same level of quality under retail
competition, to address the need for compliance with applicable portions of 52 Pa. Code
Chapter 56 and to set forth procedures governing the application of partial payments.
Following the review of comments filed by interested parties, the Commission will issue a
final order establishing these guidelines; THEREFORE,
IT IS ORDERED:
1. That the proposed guidelines for maintaining customer services at the same level
of quality pursuant to 66 Pa. C.S. §2206(a), assuring conformance with 52 Pa. Code
Chapter 56 pursuant to 66 Pa. C.S. §2208(e) and (f), and addressing the application of
partial payments as required by 66 Pa.C.S. §2205(5), are set forth in Appendix A.
2. That a comment period ending at the close of business on July 30, 1999, is
3. That written comments, an original and 15 copies, shall be submitted to the
Secretary, Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, P. O. Box 3265, Harrisburg, PA
17105-3265. Comments should specifically reference the above-captioned Commission
4. That a copy of this order and any accompanying statements of the
Commissioners be served upon all jurisdictional gas companies, the Office of Consumer
Advocate, the Office of Small Business Advocate, and the Natural Gas Competition
5. That the contact persons for this matter are Louis Sauers, Bureau of Consumer
Services (technical), (717) 783-6688 and Rhonda Daviston , Law Bureau (legal) (717)
BY THE COMMISSION,
James J. McNulty
ORDER ADOPTED: July 15, 1999
ORDER ENTERED: July 16, 1999
GUIDELINES FOR CUSTOMER SERVICES
Proposed Guidelines for Maintaining Customer Services at the Same Level of Quality
Pursuant to 66 Pa. C.S. §2206(a), Assuring Conformance with 52 Pa. Code Chapter 56
Pursuant to 66 Pa. C.S. §2208(e) and (f), and Addressing the Application of Partial
Payments Pursuant to 66 Pa.C.S. §2205(5).
A. Maintaining Customer Services at the Same Level of Quality
1. Under Section 2206(a), natural gas distribution companies (NGDCs) are
responsible for customer service functions, including but not limited to meter reading,
installation, testing and maintenance and emergency response for all customers, and
complaint resolution and collections related to the service provided by the NGDC.
2. For residential customer accounts, this obligation includes the responsibility to
physically connect and disconnect residential customers to the distribution system, as well
as performing customer service functions, unless the Commission subsequently determines
that certain functions must be performed by natural gas suppliers (NGSs).
B. Conformance With Chapter 56
1. Under Section 2208(e) and (f), NGSs shall comply with the Standards and Billing
Practices for Residential Utility Service at 52 Pa. Code, Chapter 56, except as specified in
these guidelines or as subsequently waived or otherwise determined by the Commission
through the issuance of orders.
2. Billing and Payment Standards. NGSs who are providing billing services shall
comply with the billing and payment provisions set forth in 52 Pa. Code §§56.11-56.22.
This obligation includes the obligation to offer residential customers equal monthly
payment arrangements or “budget billing,” as set forth in 52 Pa. Code §56.12(7). Since
NGDCs continue to have the responsibility for meter reading services, the meter reading
provisions of 52 Pa. Code §56.12 are not applicable to NGSs.
3. Applications for Service. NGDCs shall continue to handle applications for new
residential service, including the actual physical installation and/or connection of service,
and shall provide a process for new applicants to select an alternative NGS for supply
4. Credit Determinations/Cash Deposits. To ensure a level playing field and guarantee
that low-income consumers have the opportunity to participate in retail choice, NGSs shall
abide by the credit determination and cash deposit standards set forth in 52 Pa Code
§§56.31-56.38. The NGS’s obligation to comply with these provisions, however, does not
include the obligation to serve as supplier of last resort. That obligation remains with the
NGDC, until the Commission determines otherwise under Section 2207 of the Act.
5. Requests to Discontinue Service. NGDCs shall be responsible for ending the
physical delivery of service. NGDCs and NGSs shall implement procedures, including a
system for exchanging the necessary information, to comply with the provisions of 52 Pa.
Code §§56.16(a) and 56.72 relating to customers’ requests for the discontinuance of
service and the transfer of accounts. These procedures should include a) steps to
determine whether the customer is requesting discontinuance of service at their current
location or discontinuance of supply from their current NGS, b) referral to the other
provider, as appropriate, when a request for discontinuance is made, and c) coordination
between the NGDC and NGSs so that basic customer functions, such as accurate final
billing, are covered.
6. Interruption/Discontinuance of Service by NGSs. NGSs shall comply with 52 Pa.
Code §§56.71-56.72 to the extent those provisions are applicable to gas supply services.
7. Termination of Service/Payment Agreements.
a. No Termination for Failure to Pay Supply Charges.
1. Although Section 2208(e) permits an NGS, upon appropriate and
reasonable notice to customers, to cancel contracts for legal cause, a
customer may not be disconnected from the NGDC distribution system
unless the customer failed to meet their obligations to the NGDC or supplier
of last resort (SLR), and after the NGDC or SLR follows the Chapter 56
termination provisions. Except for threatening termination of residential
service, NGSs are free to pursue available, appropriate collection remedies
to collect delinquent balances.
2. If an NGDC purchases accounts receivable from an NGS, the NGDC
may not use the Chapter 56 termination process to address the nonpayment
of these supply charges. Rather, the NGDC is obligated to treat the
delinquent supply charges in the same manner as NGSs. Only when a
customer is receiving supply from an alternative SLR may an NGDC utilize
the Chapter 56 termination process to address the nonpayment of supply
b. Delinquent Notices to Customers. Any written notices sent to customers
regarding a failure to pay for gas supply services shall clearly inform the customers
that the failure to pay will result in cancellation of the contract, rather than
termination of service. These notices shall comply with the Commission’s Policy
Statement on Plain Language Guidelines, 52 Pa. Code §69.251.
c. Obligation to Negotiate Payment Agreements. The termination provisions of
Chapter 56, including the obligation set forth in 52 Pa. Code §56.97(b) of an
NGDC to attempt to enter into a payment agreement with a customer, are not
applicable to NGSs. The NGDC or SLR, however, continues to have the obligation
to adhere to the Chapter 56 termination provisions for non-payment, including the
duty to attempt to negotiate a payment agreement.
d. Complaint and Dispute Resolution Procedures. NGDCs and NGSs shall
ensure that procedures are in place to conform with the complaint and dispute
resolution provisions of 52 Pa. Code §§56.140-56.181. In particular, the
procedures should provide for customers to deal directly with the party responsible
for the service in question and should ensure an appropriate referral and exchange
of data when the resolution affects both NGDC and NGS services or charges.
8. Restoration of Service. The NGDC retains the responsibility for compliance with
the requirements of 52 Pa. Code §§56.191 and 56.192 relating to the restoration of service.
The procedures employed by the NGDC may not make payment of supply charges, other
than supply charges of the NGDC as supplier of last resort, a condition for the restoration
C. Application of Partial Payments
Pursuant to Section 2205(c)(5), the Commission issues the following guidelines
addressing the application of partial payments:
1. Pre-retail access balance. For a retail residential customer who has a pre-
retail access balance, the payment should be applied by the NGDC as follows:
a. Outstanding pre-retail access balance of the installation amount for a
payment agreement on this balance;
b. NGDC charges;
c. Supply charges;
d. Non-basic service charges;
e. Hardship energy fund contribution.
2. Post-retail access balance. If the retail residential customer’s account
develops a post-retail access balance, partial payments should be applied to the pre-
retail access payment agreement, before being applied to any other outstanding
post-retail access charges. For a customer with no pre-retail access balance, partial
payments should be applied as follows:
a. Balance due for prior NGDC service;
b. Current NGDC service;
c. Balance due for prior supply charges;
d. Current supply charges;
e. Non-basic service charges.
3. Budget bill payment in consolidated billing scenario. For a customer who
elects to receive a consolidated budget bill pursuant to 52 Pa. Code §56.12(7), the
NGDC shall remit to the NGS, on a monthly basis, a pro rata portion of the budget
bill payment that is applicable to supply charges.