Electricity usage from customers in the Valley is up since March when the governor issued restrictions and many people were home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"PPL’s residential use across our 29 counties, which includes the counties (of Northumberland, Snyder, Union and Montour), has increased 6 to 8 percent during this timeframe (between March and July)," said Tracie Witter, PPL's Regional Affairs director. "We will have more updated information on Aug. 10 when we present our second-quarter financial results. We expect increased usage due to the heat."

More people are home, said Witter.

"Our assumption is residential use increased based on individuals being home from work and students being home from school," said Witter.

An analysis from the U.S. Department of Energy predicts that the current heat wave coupled with workers who are stuck at home either unemployed or working remotely using the air conditioners more than ever will drive up power bills by as much as 25 percent in the U.S. Such an increase is equal to about $50 a month, which may be a significant hardship for about 50 million people this year, but Pennsylvania has a moratorium on utility shutoffs since March.

PPL offers tips and tricks for saving energy and programs to help pay bills, said Witter.

For example, if using heat-generating devices such as dishwashers, stoves or dryers, use them at night to avoid heat during the hottest part of the day. Use LED bulbs, use shades, use ceiling fans and box fans instead of air conditioners. If using an air conditioner, set it around 72 to 78 degrees because every degree can save money, said Witter.

More tips can be found on PPL's website, as well as financial programs to help customers in hard times.

"We know the pandemic will have negative financial impacts on some customers and could mean more will need bill assistance during and after the pandemic," said Witter. "We stand ready to offer that assistance, as we always have. Our PPL Foundation donated $500,000 to Operation HELP to support customers dealing with temporary hardships as a result of the coronavirus outbreak."

Operation HELP is an income-eligible program that was established in 1983 to help PPL customers pay their energy bills. It is administered by a network of local agencies and funded by PPL, its employees and customers. Every dollar contributed to Operation HELP goes to assisting those in need with their energy bills, and the program is not just for electricity bills, said Witter.

"Our OnTrack payment plan offers debt forgiveness and a lower fixed monthly payment to customers who qualify," she said. "Budget Billing averages a customer’s electric use over the entire year and then smooths out bills so they’re more predictable. Through Payment Assistance, customers can set up flexible payment arrangements that work for them."

Customers can pick the monthly due date of their bill to work with their income schedule. Customers can apply for the above programs by visiting pplelectric.com/billhelp or calling 1-888-342-5775, Witter said.

Water usage

Pool supply company owners reported a spike in business last week and said customers are filling their pools daily because the water is evaporating due to the recent heat wave.

Sunbury Municipal Authority General Manager Jason Neidig said overall 2020 has seen a decline in water usage, following a trend as larger industries and customers have left in the last five years, including Bimbo Bakery, the Northumberland County Prison, Knight-Celotex and most recently UPMC Susquehanna Sunbury. Sunbury Textile Mills also announced earlier this year its intention to close in August.

However, said Neidig, the last few weeks have shown an uptick.

"Overall, we're down. The hospital shut down and the mill is leaving," said Neidig. "But with folks being home and the hot weather, that's probably what caused the increase in the last month or so."

Penn Township Municipal Authority Lead Operator Cody Cutler said there has been an increase in water usage since last year. In 2019 they pumped around an average of 1.4 million to 1.7 million gallons per month. Since January 2020 they are averaging 2.2 million to 2.6 million gallons a month.

"We added some customers near the end of last year that contributed to most of our increases in water usage," said Cutler. "We added a main extension project to supply water to Salem Mobile Home Park which has around 110 customers. Most responsible for the increase in usage is the addition of Bright Farms onto our system. All of Bright Farms crops are grown in water and we supply that water. With these two larger customers added it makes sense to have such an increase in water usage."

Cutler does not attribute the increase to COVID-19 or the heat.

"With most of the businesses being shut down or limited in work, seems to be offsetting the usage of people being at home all day," he said.

Cutler thanked customers for doing their part and not flushing 'disposable wipes' or disinfection wipes during the COVID-19 toilet paper shortage.

"We didn't have any sewer pump failures or back ups caused by any such obstructions," he said.

Susan Turcmanovich, a spokesperson for Pennsylvania American Water, declined to talk about specific customer usage but said the company is aware people are spending more time at home.

"As a subsidiary of a publicly-traded company Pennsylvania American Water is subject to SEC regulations on public financial disclosures and does not share financial or customer usage information outside of the company’s regulatory filings," said Tucmanovich. "Therefore, we are unable to provide the customer bill information you requested. We are aware that many of our customers have been spending more time at home as a result of the pandemic, and we’ve tailored our recent customer education and outreach to specifically focus on household water conservation tips during this time. We also know that many of our commercial and industrial customers reduced or suspended their operations for a period of time, and we provided them with guidance on flushing building plumbing before reopening."

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