– The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) recently told members of the House Consumer Affairs Committee, including Rep. Tina Pickett (R-Bradford/Sullivan/Susquehanna), that it has put new rules and practices in place to address last year’s high rate spikes that surprised thousands of customers.
During the 2013-14 winter season, homeowners across the state faced skyrocketing bills caused by variable rate electric plans, which included rates impacted by a rapidly changing market. Much of that was attributed to the colder than average winter and took most consumers by surprise, with bills tripling in price over previous winters.
“Last year when our area experienced cold temperatures, consumers with variable rate plans saw their bills skyrocket, and reached out to my office to see if there was anything that could be done to remedy the situation,” Pickett said. “Much of the problem rested within contractual language that consumers may not have fully understood, and I’m pleased that the PUC took that issue seriously and has helped to put in place some measures to help address these situations.”
Residents have been encouraged to choose their electric suppliers as a way to increase competition, and as of February 2015, the PUC reported that 2.1 million Pennsylvania residential and business customers have switched to a competitive electric generation supplier, about 73 percent of the state’s total customer load. Most of the shopping is taking place within the Duquesne and PPL territories.
Immediately after the high bills starting going out and the PUC was contacted, the agency told the committee that it took a look at some of the issues customers were having that could trigger a regulatory resolution. That included both increased efforts to educate consumers about variable rate pricing and include consumer-friendly features to the power shopping website (www.PAPowerSwitch.com
) along with two new rule-makings.
Many customers were unaware of the unpredictability of variable rate plans and then immediately tried to switch to fixed rate plans, only to continue to face high bills because the switch took so long. PUC implemented changes to shorten the time it takes for consumers to switch their suppliers – from the previous 16 to 40 days, to a new maximum of three business days. That change went into effect Dec. 15, 2014.
Additionally, the PUC required electric generation suppliers to be more transparent and write language more understandable to the consumer. This change helps to ensure that customers receive more detailed, adequate and accurate information, thereby empowering them to make informed decisions when choosing a supplier.
Also noteworthy is a new requirement that customers who have rolled off of fixed-rate contracts to variable rate products receive at least 30 days notice of any change in their rate, which helps to eliminate any surprise rate changes on a customer’s bill.
“Even though this winter has been colder in some cases than 2014, I am hopeful these changes have resulted in more positive outcomes for residents across the Northern Tier this year,” Pickett said. “Although we continue to review legislation that may help in the event of future situations like these, I applaud the customers for letting us know there was a problem and for the PUC for stepping in to take as much action as possible.”
Representative Tina Pickett
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Jennifer Keaton