Canoe Catamaran and Flotilla of Kayaks Take to the Schuylkill River with Call for PECO to Forgive Bills, Address Climate Change
Wednesday August 19th saw a flotilla of 11 kayaks, and a canoe catamaran displaying an enormous round banner, paddle up the Schuylkill River to a meet-up with PECO ratepayers who are calling on PECO to forgive utility bills accumulated during the pandemic and to take action on climate change.
The “Aquatic Action” was organized by the Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT), which is calling on PECO to forgive the utility bills of our most vulnerable neighbors and to honor the current moratorium on utility service shut-offs.
The catamaran’s 20-foot banner also challenged PECO to develop a plan for reducing greenhouse emissions from generating the electricity it sells. The company plans to sell electricity incorporating only .5% solar through 2025, a commitment to renewable energy that is clearly inadequate, given the severity of climate change.
“Low income communities currently face a severe pandemic-driven economic crisis, with many ratepayers unable to pay for electricity and gas,” commented Dana Robinson, a spokesman for EQAT. “These are the same communities vulnerable to ongoing threats from unemployment, polluted air and climate change. PECO has enormous power to ameliorate these conditions.”
PECO is asking the PA Public Utilities Commission to end the emergency moratorium on utility service shut-offs that the PUC imposed on March 13th. It is also asking for permission to sell electricity with almost no solar component to the two-thirds of households in its service territory that use its “Default Service Plan” (DSP).
“We are challenging the business-as-usual thinking that has PECO lobbying in Harrisburg for an end to the shut-off moratorium, continuing reliance on fossil fuels for electricity, and a prohibition on community solar projects,” continued Robinson. “We are encouraged by the company’s recent announcement of small steps toward bill forgiveness, but there is so much more that they need to be doing in the face of these multiple crises.”
On Thursday, August 6th the PA Public Utility Commission rejected PECO’s proposed bill relief plan in a 2-2 vote. In this time of sky-high unemployment in low-income communities, payment of utility bills has become an impossible burden for many residents. They are faced with the dilemma of trying to pay for electricity and gas with money they don’t have vs. watching their arrearages mount into the hundreds and thousands of dollars and threatening future shut-offs.
PECO’s offering of a $50 bill credit along with the lessening of standards for enrollment in low-income programs was not a serious response to this crisis and is consistent with PECO’s history of not taking threats to safety and well-being seriously, according to Robinson.
Since 2015 EQAT has been pressing PECO to dramatically increase the amount of solar-generated electricity it distributes as a response to climate change and unemployment, and is currently calling on PECO to assist ratepayers in crisis. Robinson characterized the company’s behavior as “a pattern of suggesting quarter-measures when more robust action is needed. For a corporation that nets more than $400 million each year in profits, which it then sends to its parent corporation, Exelon, in Chicago, to not offer meaningful bill forgiveness during these extraordinary times is unacceptable. It shows a lack of concern for the ratepayers who pay their salaries and shareholder dividends.”
EQAT is calling on PECO to:
- Forgive the utility bills of our most vulnerable neighbors
- Continue the moratorium on service shutoffs
- Resubmit its DSP to show to show a commitment to solar
- Create a real plan for getting 20% of the region’s energy from local solar by 2025 in a way that prioritizes access to solar ownership and jobs for low income, black and brown communities
Adopting these priorities would benefit southeast Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable residents in both the short- and long-term. Already more likely to experience the negative effects of climate change—residing in flood prone areas, lacking access to air conditioning, living with illnesses exacerbated by heat, etc.—these vulnerable residents now have to cope with a pandemic that has disproportionately impacted (through job loss, illness, and death) low income communities and communities of color.
“We have to look out for vulnerable neighbors now and into the future,” says Robinson, “and it’s time for PECO to join us in that pursuit.”
Power Local Green Jobs is a faith-based economic justice campaign led by Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT). Begun in 2015, the campaign uses nonviolent direct action to pressure PECO, the largest utility in PA, to spur job growth through solar expansion in areas with high unemployment. Learn more at www.eqat.org.