Duquesne Light using AI to identify customers in need of extra financial assistance

Power Bill

With more than 50 percent of the US population unprotected from utility shutoffs by government order, new research from the NEADA (National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association) says that utility homeowner and small business debt could top $24.3 billion by year end.

Blastpoint, a company that presented on customer engagement solutions in the September DISTRIBUTECH+ series, is trying to help utilities recover some of that lost revenue.

Late last week BlastPoint said that it is working with Duquesne Light Company (DLC) to conduct customer data analysis to determine which customers the utility should proactively reach out to during these turbulent times

Electric and gas debts alone threaten to reach or exceed $24.3 billion by the end of the year, according to a NEADA analysis, based on roughly two dozen states’ regulatory filings. Specifically, Pennsylvania, where Duquesne Light is located, has registered $403 million in arrears, compared with $290 million at the same time in 2019.

Marie Tamilia, General Manager of Credit & Collections at Pittsburgh-based Duquesne Light Company, sees firsthand the number of electricity customers whose late bills have piled up since COVID-19 hit the region. She wants more people to know about the financial support that is available to help them. “It’s hard to distinguish between which customers can pay and which cannot,” says Tamilia. “For customers that aren’t paying anything, an extended moratorium is going to hurt them more than help.” 

DLC has been working to analyze its customer payment patterns so it can better understand which households are exhibiting financial stress, and how severely. With this knowledge, Tamilia’s team can steer customers in need to the appropriate resources. “The goal is never to shut someone’s power off,” Tamilia says. “For those that need help, we offer payment arrangements and guide them to agencies where they can find assistance.”

Her team then provides energy assistance information, whether it’s for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program; a hardship grant through Dollar Energy Fund; DLC’s Customer Assistance Program; or a flexible payment arrangement. Earlier this year, DLC launched its Here to Help and Business Center resource centers to help its residential and small- to mid-size business customers who are facing financial hardship.

Alison Alvarez, CEO of Blastpoint, comments, “BlastPoint’s analysis of late customer payments throughout the pandemic shows that the more money a customer owes (or the more months that go by where no payment is made), the harder it will be for that customer to recover financially. On the other hand, if they can continue to make some payments to keep their overdue balances under about $300, they’re more likely to survive pandemic-related financial setbacks. However, once a customer’s balance tops $1K, our data indicates they will be less likely to pay anything at all.”

October’s DISTRIBUTECH+ series focuses on Renewables and Energy Storage and How Utilities are Planning for a Sustainable Grid. Visit DISTRIBUTECH+ to learn more about the virtual events and register.

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The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com.

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