PUC orders halt to utility shutoffs over coronavirus emergency

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    Pennsylvania utilities can not cut off services until further notice under an emergency order Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission issued Friday evening.

    The order means that all electric, natural gas, water, wastewater, telecommunication and steam providers must provide all Pennsylvania customers with services until Gov. Tom Wolf lifts his coronavirus disaster declaration.

    “I believe that issuance of an emergency order is appropriate under the unique circumstances,” the order, signed by PUC Chairman Gladys Brown Dutrieuille said. “It is beyond argument that the provision of public utility service is necessary for the safety of the public. This is especially the case under the current challenges that resulted in the Proclamation of a Pandemic Emergency.”   

    Wolf issued the disaster declaration March 5, and can reissue it indefinitely.

    As of Friday evening, there were 41 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Pennsylvania, a number that nearly doubled in the span of 24 hours. All public schools are shuttered until March 30. Two counties in southeastern Pennsylvania were under voluntary orders from Wolf to shut down all community centers, entertainment venues and non-vital retail outlets.

    From Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, utilities across the state had already begun to promise to temporarily suspend utility shut offs. The order will keep these voluntary moves in effect indefinitely.

    The order also follows calls from some Democratic lawmakers.

    “Many of our neediest residents have life-saving medical equipment that they use in their home, and it’s of the utmost importance that they have consistent access to that equipment through their electric utility,” Philadelphia’s House delegation said in a joint statement earlier this week. “Our emergency rooms and first responders can’t be asked to spend finite resources on Pennsylvanians who could be at home but were forced out seeking medical treatment due to their electricity being shut off. That would be simply unconscionable.”