PUC promises to probe spike in electric bills

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission is promising to investigate complaints of spiking electricity bills.

The PUC voted unanimously Thursday
to look into the practices of suppliers who dramatically increased their variable rates last month.

The utility commission says it's received nearly 800 informal complaints about high bills.

“We feel their pain,” PUC chairman Robert Powelson said. “We recognize as an agency we have to do more. We're
gonna continue to get out there and work with the suppliers that want to
work with us, and let me remind those suppliers here this morning: if
those informal complaints go formal, we will not hesitate to revoke your

Commissioners caution that high prices aren't necessarily criminal. The market did spike in January and if customers signed up for a variable rate, they took a risk and got burned.

However, the PUC can crack down on deceptive advertising and false promises, and it can push companies to be more clear to consumers about the gamble.

“We're doing everything we can,” PUC vice chairman John Coleman said. “We do not control the competitive market pricing. That is not a area where the commission has regulatory responsibility or authority.”

To turn on the light might cost one person six cents a kilowatt hour and another person 22 cents a kilowatt hour. Such is life in a deregulated market. It's called the free market, but even the dimmest bulbs know it isn't free.

Randy Brown wonders what all the fuss is about. He loves deregulation, shops once a year for electricity, always changes companies and always gets a lower price than the previous deal.

But he always goes with the lowest fixed rate; no variable for him.

“I want to buy something and I know what I'm getting and understand what I'm paying for it,” he said. “As far as I'm concerned, a variable rate is simply shopping without knowing the prices.”

But clearly, many Pennsylvanians feel ripped off. Was it wrongdoing by a company or the wrong choice by customers? The PUC's trying to find out.

“If there are bad actors, the commission will respond and it will be very decisive,” Coleman said.


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