Planned rate hike by PGW assailed at last of 4 hearings

If the Philadelphia Gas Works has its way, its 496,000 customers will be paying at least 9.3 percent more for their basic service by the fall.

And that prospect last night brought a cadre of customers, social workers, lawyers and politicians to the final of four Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission public-input hearings.

The utility says the increase would bring in about $107 million in additional revenue annually. The rate hike does not include any increases in fuel costs, which could also be an additional cost to customers in the coming months.

In December, the utility filed a petition with the PUC to increase customers' base rate, saying it needed the additional income to offset losses from unpaid sales and increased operating expenses.

"It is not fair to place the burden of the customers who do not pay their bills on those who do," said City Councilman Frank Rizzo, who attended the hearing.

His words, like those of others who gave sworn testimony against the rate hike, were met with applause from the small crowd gathered at Community College of Philadelphia for the hearing.

About a half-dozen people held hand-lettered signs throughout the brief hearing bearing slogans such as "Freeze Rates, Not Rate Payers" and "Heating or Eating - We Need Both."

"People have been without heat this winter and running space heaters and running the risk of losing their lives," testified Giovanna Tonelli, a social worker from South Philadelphia. "I want to address the inhumane way PGW has been using fear, intimidation and psychological abuse to get people to pay their bills. It will only get worse for people as the rates go up."

The annual bill for a typical residential customer would increase about $160, from about $1,727 to $1,887, according to the utility.

Contact staff writer Jacqueline L. Urgo at 609-823-9629 or