March 5, 2014 —
HARRISBURG, PA — Some electricity consumers in the Keystone State have been hit with skyrocketing charges in recent months, specifically consumers who have signed variable rate contracts with electricity suppliers.
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC), which is charged with investigating such things, has received more than 1,500 complaints since the beginning of the year about bills that are too high.
Politicians are also getting calls on the subject. During a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on February 27, Baker and other members of the committee said they have been inundated with calls from consumers who switched to certain alternative electricity suppliers offering variable rates and have seen huge hikes in their bills.
“PUC commissioners acknowledged that the problem is widespread, and are urging customers who have been affected to file a complaint with their consumer protection office, including marketing materials, bills, contracts and conditions,” Baker said.
The PUC opened a proceeding to review the complaints. “After receiving these high bill complaints, the commission immediately undertook a review of the matter and developed recommendations for action,” said PUC Vice Chairman John F. Coleman Jr. and Commissioner James H. Cawley in a joint motion. “The rate consumers pay in the retail electric market is governed by the terms of their contract with their supplier…. It is important for consumers on variable rates to carefully review the terms and conditions of their contracts to determine if they are at risk for large rate increases at any given time.”
The commission voted 5 to 0 to examine areas of concern, including compelling suppliers to notify customers of price changes; requiring historical pricing information for suppliers offering variable rate products; revising disclosure statements to make them more user friendly; and increasing the information available from suppliers to consumers about variable rate increases, including the fact that uncapped variable rates may be increased without limitation.
The situation has also attracted the attention of Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane. She said, “These spikes in the price of electricity are alarming and have put many consumers, especially the poor and elderly, in a dire situation. It is my duty to protect consumers and act on their behalf. We are looking at these price increases and will be prepared to take action to protect affected consumers.”
The Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection is working with the independent Office of Consumer Advocate to learn whether consumers have been improperly overcharged for their electricity.
Rep. Sandra Major also issued a statement on the matter. She said, “I cannot stress enough being fully aware and reading the fine print before entering into any agreement. Variable or adjustable rates in any type of contract mean savings for you in good times and an added expense in difficult circumstances. The winter weather we are experiencing is different than in recent years, but an example of what can happen.”
She added, “If you believe you are paying a rate that is inconsistent with your supplier contract, please contact the supplier and attempt to resolve the issue. If the supplier is unable to resolve the complaint or is unresponsive, [you can] file a complaint with the Public Utility Commission through its website or call 800/692-7380.”