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What do steeply rising gas bills and the threat of disconnection mean for city residents as we head into another Chicago winter?
For several years, Illinois PIRG and our allies have been working to hold Peoples Gas accountable for its troubled pipe replacement program. As documented by the Illinois PIRG Education Fund report released in June, the program is mismanaged, misdirected, and a bad deal for Chicago.
While Peoples Gas justifies the spiralling costs of the pipe program as necessary to ensure public safety, the company is leaving leaky pipes in the ground while it does tangentially-related work to overhaul its entire system. As a result, leak rates aren’t declining the way they should after spending billions of dollars on a pipe replacement program.
Unfortunately, the program’s estimated $11 billion price tag comes straight out of customer pockets, and Chicagoans are feeling the squeeze. Last year, nearly 15% of Peoples Gas customers were eligible for disconnection because they couldn’t keep up with rising gas bills. This year customers are even further behind on their bills--$40.1 million behind as of September, to be exact. That’s up from $25.7 million at the same time last year.
As outdoor temperatures drop and monthly heating bills climb, we’ve been thinking about what the costs of this program might mean for tens of thousands of Peoples Gas customers who are heading into winter, and we aren’t the only ones. Last week, Elevate Energy released a survey showing that 90% of low income homeowners in Chicago report being energy insecure, and more than 50% go to great lengths, for example keeping their homes at extremely cold temperatures or cutting back on food and medical expenses, in order to keep their energy bills low.
Fortunately, starting December 1, struggling Peoples Gas customers won’t have to worry about getting their heat shut off, as this marks the start of a 4-month voluntary moratorium on gas disconnections. December 1 is also the first day of open enrollment in LIHEAP, a program providing financial assistance to low-income and vulnerable households for winter heating bills.
We pulled together a simple fact sheet with more information about the Shut-Off moratorium, LIHEAP, and energy insecurity in Chicago, found here.
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