Cool summer chills electric rates

The summer’s been cool.

Temperatures are down in the Midstate.

Demand on electricity’s been down and electricity bills should fall as well.

For consumers, that’s really cool, especially on the heels of a frigid winter that saw some variable rates spike 400 percent.

“When you have cooler temperatures in the summer, you’ll see the prices on the wholesale level drop,” explains Commissioner Pamela Witmer of the Public Utility Commission.

On September 1, new Price to Compare rates will be released for default customers who have never chosen an electric supplier and have instead stayed with their utility provider. Witmer expects that in most cases the rates should drop because of the lower demand in the summer.

The PUC made a few consumer friendly moves that are kicking in or are about to. One reform requires electric suppliers to present their contracts in clear, easy-to-understand language. Terms and conditions must be spelled out in plain English, not in the fine print on the back of page nine.

Another reform, which must be implemented by December, will let customers switch from one company to another in just three days instead of keeping them stuck for weeks in a bad deal.

Companies have complained about the expensive upgrades to technology, but Witmer said most are cooperating with the mandate.

“This is something we’ve been talking about for quite some time,” Witmer said, “so now we’re at the point where the rubber has to meet the road and we’re not gonna take no for answer.”

“That’s too little, and too late,” said Representative Robert Godshall (R-Montgomery) chairman of the House Consumer Affairs Committee.

Godshall has a bill that would cap at 30 percent the amount an electric bill could spike from one month to the next.

It passed out of committee, but Godshall says Republican leadership is sitting on it and are keeping it from a House-wide vote.

Godshall says they can bottle up the bill but they can’t shut up the lawmaker.

“I’m not gonna go away on this,” Godshall insists. “There’s thousands of people in Pennsylvania that got hurt. AARP is with me. Consumer groups are with me. They all know that something has to be done to prevent this from happening again.”

But this summer a philosophical divide has emerged on the topic of variable rate contracts. On one side is a group that wants to empower consumers and let them make their own choices on the free market. The other side wants to exert its influence on the markets to more completely protect the consumer.

“I don’t personally believe that having an artificial cap is the way to go,” Witmer said. “I think it is anti-free market.”

Godshall sees it differently, thinks controls are necessary, and doesn’t think the PUC’s reforms go far enough.

“There’s nothing in there to prevent predatory pricing,” he said. “On a variable rate contract they (electric suppliers) can charge whatever they want to charge.”

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