PSC Releases Emergency Low-Income Energy Assistance for Seniors

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(APN) ATLANTA — The Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) released five million dollars from the Universal Service Fund fund on January 18, 2011, to help low-income seniors pay their energy bills this winter.

Georgia Watch had made a formal request to the PSC to release the funds.  Commissioner Doug Everett then made a formal motion, and the PSC unanimously voted to release the funds.

Four million dollars will be credited to eligible senior customers of Atlanta Gas Light Company and other gas marketers.  The money will show up as a line item credit, “Georgia PSC Credit,” on gas bills. 

The Salvation Army will receive the remaining funds to disburse to people in need across the state.

“We applaud the PSC for acting quickly to address a situation that has reached emergency levels,” Georgia Watch executive director Angela Speir Phelps, said.  “The recession has hit consumers hard and record-low temperatures are exacerbating an already dire situation.”

The PSC’s Universal Service Fund (USF), one of the purposes of which is to assist low-income residential consumers in times of emergency, had a balance of around 30 million dollars as of December 2010.

These funds will supplement the dwindling LIHEAP funds, which as previously reported by APN, are almost depleted in Fulton County.

FACAA CEO Joyce Dorsey told APN two days ago that the agency had not received the remaining LIHEAP funds yet from the state, but that they had been appropriated.  However, they have started taking applications again because they anticipate the funds will arrive soon.

According to the Secretary of State’s website, the USF is funded by a variety of profit sources accumulated by utility companies in Georgia, including unclaimed deposits paid by consumers to establish utility service.  Apparently, customers have a two year period in which to reclaim their deposit, so beware.

The purposes of the USF include low-income energy assistance and construction by utility companies to expand their service.

According to the PSC, “The Georgia General Assembly originally established the USF in the Natural Gas Deregulation Act of 1997 to fund natural gas pipeline extensions in the Atlanta Gas Light Company service area and charged the Commission with administering and managing the fund.”

The PSC establishes the amount of the fund every year, with a maximum of 25 million dollars per year.

“In 2002 the Legislature passed amendments that allow the USF to be used to provide assistance to low-income natural gas customers in the AGLC delivery area.  Since the inception of the USF, the Commission has allocated close to $100 million for customer refunds and low-income assistance,” the PSC said.

The last time the PSC allocated USF funds for the purpose of  low-income gas bill assistance was in 2008 when it disbursed 6.6 million dollars.

“We are pleased that we are able to assist these natural gas customers during this extremely cold 2011 winter heating season,” Commissioner Everett said.

Meanwhile, Dorsey noted that FACAA has a second pot of money available for a variety of emergency assistance, totaling only 100,000 dollars,  which comes from federal grants.  This is separate from LIHEAP or USF money.

(END / 2011)

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