Marcellus Shale

State Announces Impact Fee Collections for 2013

The state has tallied the amount of money coming in for the second year of the Marcellus Shale Impact Fee.  The number is not as high as the first year.

The state has collected 198 million dollars through the impact fee this year, about 6 million less than last year due mainly to the lower price of natural gas.

Payments for some wells are still being challenged by those producers. Any additional payments received from the disputed wells will be updated on the PUC’s website.

Governor Tom Corbett says the fee has now brought in more than 400 million dollars since it was enacted. He says Act 13, which implemented the fee, has played a key part in making sure that the industry grows safely and responsibly.

Natural Gas “Shoppers” Have New Way to Compare Prices

Natural gas customers have had their choice of suppliers for about 14 years, but  many don’t make a switch.  Now, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission   is offering them a new tool to comparison shop.

When the PUC upgraded its web site recently, it created PAGasSwitch.  While pricing information has been available for some time on the Office of Consumer Advocate’s website, this tool is very much like PAPowerSwitch , in that it allows interactive comparisons. It allows customers to see prices, services and incentives from natural gas suppliers.

Denise McCracken of the PUC says only about 12% of natural gas customers have switched recently and they’re hoping the new tool will encourage more of them to “shop” for a natural gas supplier, just like consumers shop for an electricity supplier.

The website is

Pennsylvania PUC to Discuss Utility Response to Superstorm Sandy

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission will hold a special electric reliability forum to hear from utilities that were affected by Superstorm Sandy.  It’s similar to the process that took place after Hurricane Irene, Tropical Storm Lee and the October snowstorm of 2011.

In addition to reviewing how the utilities handled damage from Sandy, it will also give the PUC a chance to see how changes made since the storms of 2011 worked during last year’s hurricane turned superstorm.

PUC spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher says the forum will also bring all affected utilities together, so they can   hear from each other and share information about their successes.

The forum will be held at 1:30 pm, on January 10th in hearing room 1 at the Commonwealth Keystone Building on North Street in Harrisburg.

Kocher says Sandy caused double the damage to infrastructure such as poles, cross arms and wires compared to Irene. It was either the top or one of the top storms faced by the utilities. The storm caused 1.8 million Pennsylvanians to lose power. The storm hit the state on October 29th.  90% of those who lost service had their power back on by November 3rd.

Kocher says details from the forum will be made available on line at the PUC web site after the session.

Marcellus Shale

PUC Moves Forward with Impact Fee Provisions, Minus Zoning Issues

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission has finalized provisions of Act 13, related only to the collection and distribution of the impact fee for natural gas wells.    The commission has put the zoning portion on hold, due to pending litigation. Spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher says the final implementation order contains various deadlines, including the reports due from natural gas producers.  The fees must be paid to the PUC by September 1st.

The order also includes forms that municipalities will need to collect their share of the fee. Municipalities will have to submit a 2010 budget report, because some of the money that will be disbursed is based on that information.  Kocher says all 37 eligible counties have authorized collection of the fee.

Money will be distributed to eligible counties and municipalities by December 1st.

The PUC did take the next step toward hiring outside legal counsel to provide advice on zoning issues related to Act 13, but no contract has been approved yet.

Seven municipalities are part of a group suing the state, claiming the new law is unconstitutional, in that it takes the power to control property away from towns and landowners  in favor of the oil and gas industry. The  lawsuit was filed in Commonwealth Court in March. A judge issued an injunction in April blocking implmentation of the zoning portion of the law.  The case is expected to be heard next month.

PUC Puts Impact Fee Final Implementation Order on Hold

A Commonwealth Court judge’s injunction in a lawsuit challenging a portion of the impact fee law has prompted the state Public Utility Commission to delay action on a final implementation order.   

The PUC is seeking clarification from the court before moving forward with the final implementation order for the impact fee law.  The injunction deals with the zoning portion of the law, but the PUC also has a role in that area. PUC spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher says they do not anticipate that the collection and disbursement of the fee will be delayed by the Commission’s decision to await a clarification. She says work is still continuing on the implementation of the act.

Kocher says the commission’s next scheduled public meeting is May 10th, but she could not say whether or not the order would appear on that agenda.

The Commission has jurisdiction in both the zoning and fee collection portions of the law.  Kocher says the PUC needs clarification on how the injunction impacts its role in reviewing local ordinances on oil and gas operations.   She says they hope to move other portions under their jurisdiction forward sooner, but they wanted to put everything on hold at this time to await that clarification. She says they felt there were some ambiguities in the court’s order.

PUC Holds Final Hearing in its Retail Electricity Markets Investigation

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission has been taking a closer look at the retail electricity market to learn why more customers are not shopping.   Most stay with their default electricity suppliers. The last in a series of en banc hearings was held recently.

Only about a third of the state’s 5 million electric customers have actually switched suppliers since they’ve been given a choice.  Fewer than half have actually shopped around.

Commissioner James Cawley says some common misconceptions may be to blame, including misplaced customer loyalty to the default suppler and concerns about what happens when the power goes out.

Cawley says the utility that runs the wires into your property doesn’t make any money on the electricity.  They have to pass the cost along dollar for dollar, so they don’t care if you switch.  He says they will not punish you if the power goes out because you switched to an alternate supplier.  He says they’re regulated by the PUC to be distribution companies.

Cawley says the PUC is looking at a number of options to encourage people to shop for the best deal, including expanded education, opt-in and customer referral programs. 

A final report is due to the commission by the end of next month.  Once the report is received, the PUC will consider if any changes are needed in the law or in regulations.   There will be ample opportunities for public comment.  People can learn more about shopping for electricity at

PUC Ready to Implement its Responsibilities Under Act 13- The Impact fee Law

The state Public Utility Commission plays an important role in the new natural gas impact fee law.   Chairman Robert Powelson told the house appropriations committee the commission is ideally positioned to take on these new responsibilities outline in Act 13.

It’s up to counties to decide whether to impose the fee, but the PUC will oversee collection and distribution of it, and weigh in on whether local drilling ordinances are reasonable. Powelson says they put together an internal team to look at implementation before the bill even passed.

Powelson says the implementation team already has a draft work plan. Last week, the PUC issued a secretarial letter to all of the affected parties.  In the coming weeks, the commission will issue a tentative implementation order addressing some of the procedures related to their new duties under the act.

The commission has posted several new positions related to the act; two attorneys, two new budget analysts and one MIS developer.

There is a 60 day window for counties to decide whether to impose the fee. Municipalities in counties that do not assess the fee have 60 days after that period to petition to have the fee imposed. On September 1st, the natural gas producers will report their well information and the commission will provide an assessment vehicle on the spud fee.   Spud refers to the point at which drilling of a natural gas well actually begins.

Powelson says December 1st is the date checks need to go out to counties and municipalities and that deadline is very important to the commission.  They are looking at outsourcing the collection and distribution of the fee initially.

PUC says Prepare Now for Winter Heating Bills

Woolley bear caterpillars and extended forecasts aside, there’s no telling how cold it will be this winter, or how big your heating bill will be.      The PUC hopes you’ll “Prepare Now“.  The campaign encourages people who are having financial struggles to reach out to their utility to see what programs are available. 

Commissioner Pamela Witmer says we can all take steps to be more energy efficient. Those include turning back the thermostat, using a programmable thermostat, and switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs. She adds you can also lower heating costs by closing your drapes when it’s cloudy, making sure your registers are not blocked so you’re getting the most heat out and your furnace is running at peak efficiency and even putting plastic over the windows for additional insulation.

Witmer says don’t wait for the bill to come in the mail. Call your utility and see what kinds of programs they have for low income families.  If you don’t qualify, there may be a budget plan that could help spread out the payments for higher winter heating bills.

Witmer   says be careful with supplemental heating sources.  If you’re using a fireplace, make sure the flue are inspected and cleaned out.  Use space heaters as instructed by the manufacturer.  Never use the oven to heat the room or burn charcoal indoors.

Witmer says people also need to know their rights.  Low income individuals cannot have their service terminated during winter months.  That period runs from November 30th through April 1st in Pennsylvania.

You can learn more at the PUC’s web site by calling 1-800-692-7380.

PUC to Review Handling of Power Outages During Hurricane Irene

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission will take a closer look at how electric utilities handled outages during Hurricane Irene in a special forum next month. At the height of the storm, there were some 768,000 customers without power.  Some were without service for up to ten days. Overall, there were more than 1.3 million customer outages throughout the storm

The PUC will hold a Special Electric Reliability Forum to take a closer look at how the utilities prepared for Irene and handled storm damage. Spokeswomen Jennifer Kocher says some things were handled extremely well by the utilities and there were other things that didn’t go quite so well.  She says the forum is an effort to learn lessons for the next storm.

Kocher says the commission wants to look at how pre-planning went, what communication efforts were made with customers and how the electric utilities worked to restore service to affected customers.

Kocher says most of the utilities have Irene in their top five of outage storms.  She says the commission recognizes it was not the norm, but it’s always an opportunity to learn from what happened, what they can do better and how to move forward from here.

The forum will be held on October 12th from 1:30 pm until 5 pm at the  Commonwealth Keystone Building in Harrisburg. There will be an opportunity for the public to offer comment at the conclusion of the formal remarks.   

Kocher says the commission, at its meeting on Thursday, did make a rule change that will mean utilities will have to regularly provide more information on pre-storm preparation and mutual aid in the future.