Peco improperly shut off nearly 50,000 customers because of computer glitches

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Contributed date

May 31, 2021 - 12:09pm

Critical Commentary

PECO, the Philadelphia electric utility company, has agreed to pay $75,000 in penalties under a proposed settlement with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission’s Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement, due to PECO's violation of provisions in the Pennsylvania utility code that requires it to attempt direct contact with a customer or attempt to make two phone calls to a customer at least 72 hours before a scheduled shut off. In 2018 and 2019, PECO terminated service to nearly 50,000 electric customers without proper notification due to software glitches. 

In 2018, PECO installed a new automated phone-dialing software that was supposed to call and notify residents twice prior to being shut-off, however the system incorrectly listed calls “not made” as “successful", meaning that a large number of customers did not receive a second phone call at least 72 hours before the shutoff. A second problem with the dialer software emerged in 2019 when Peco discovered the system incorrectly listed the customer’s current bill due date as the termination date. As a result, Peco did not provide the correct termination date during the 72-hour call.

After PECO discovered the issue, they reported the problem to the Pennsylvania Utility Commission (PUC), and terminated its relationship with the software vendor. After the problems were discovered, Peco made manual calls and two attempted field visits to the customers, established a restoration hotline to respond to incoming calls, and offered additional deferred payment agreements to customers, according to the settlement.

The company said that power has been restored to most of the impacted customers (historically 95% of restorations occur within three days of the termination, the company said). However, more than 1,500 of the customers remain without service. According to Peco’s surveys, about a third of the dwellings appeared to be vacant, about a third were shut off because of improper usage, and about a third appeared to be occupied, but the occupants were unresponsive.

This article highlights another failure of the technologies used by energy providers which in turn created home energy shortages that residents were ill-prepared for, similar to the Texas grid-failure. Without proper notification of shut-offs, residents in Philadelphia who were experiencing severe energy insecurity were suddenly thrust into energy emergencies, and PECO chose not to remedy the faults on their end by reconnecting customers who were shut-off without proper notice. 

Cite as

Andrew Maykuth, "Peco improperly shut off nearly 50,000 customers because of computer glitches", contributed by Morgan Sarao and Alison Kenner, The Energy Rights Project, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 1 June 2021, accessed 10 December 2023.