|ILLINOIS electric and natural gas utilities have launched interim Percentage-of-Income Plan (PIP) programs to provide a new type of energy assistance to low-income customers who qualify for benefits under the State’s Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
The programs are the first step in what will eventually be a statewide PIP energy affordability effort codified in Public Act 96-003, which was passed by the Illinois General Assembly this past spring as Senate Bill 1918.
Basic LIHEAP benefits currently are in the form of one-time grants which are used as credits toward energy bills incurred by low-income customers. On the other hand, PIP programs establish monthly payment levels for low-income customers based on a percentage of their monthly incomes.
In PIP programs, the difference between the customer payment and the total energy bill is paid from LIHEAP funds. The goal is to establish a customer payment level that is affordable given the customer’s income.
Ameren Illinois Utilities had enrolled 4,725 electric customers and 639 natural gas customers in its interim PIP programs as of mid-December. Commonwealth Edison Company had enrolled 9,386 customers in its program. The interim PIP programs for both utilities were extensions of previous rate relief programs being run by the companies.
Among natural gas companies, both Nicor and Peoples Gas began enrolling customers in mid-December in their respective interim programs. Both companies were working with local community action agencies to identify eligible customers willing to participate in the programs which had not existed previously.
At the same time, all four utilities were engaged in a stakeholder process facilitated by the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) to develop the permanent statewide PIP program that should be fully operational in 2011. DCEO administers the LIHEAP program in Illinois.
It is envisioned that Phase I of the permanent PIP program should be in place by July, 2010, at which time the utilities will move from their interim programs to the DCEO-led initial phase of the statewide program.