Frigid weather this winter has resulted in more than cabin fever for some Pennsylvania electric customers. The bills of some customers with variable-rate contracts have tripled or quadrupled since January, and officials in Harrisburg are hearing about it.
“We received 2,600 complaints so far,” said Jennifer Kocher, spokeswoman for the Public Utility Commission.
Kocher said the PUC was in an information-gathering stage to see if electric suppliers violated any code of conduct concerning disclosure under the law.
The number of customers experiencing “rate shock” is unknown because electric suppliers are not required to reveal the types of contracts they have with customers, Kocher said.
The electric suppliers cite the prolonged cold weather and, through their association, the Retail Energy Supply Association, said they favor better disclosure regarding the contracts.
RESA chairman Richard Hudson also said his group would support legislation that would allow for faster switching of suppliers.
“Consumers should not be locked into an untenable electricity product, variable rate or otherwise, for one to two billing cycles,” Hudson wrote in an email. “In a world where consumers can switch cellphone providers instantaneously at a mall kiosk, there is no reason a change in electricity providers should take 11 to 40 days as required under current Pennsylvania rules.”
The state House of Representatives consumer affairs committee has scheduled a hearing on the matter for March 20, and members of the committee are drafting legislation they plan to have ready by that date.
In a memo to state House colleagues, Rep. Robert Godshall, R-Montgomery, who is chairman of the committee, wrote he has been contacted by numerous members on both sides of the aisle regarding variable-rate supplier contracts.
“While I understand variable rates are subject to change based upon changes in the wholesale electric market, additional information must be provided to consumers so that they know exactly what they are signing up for,” Godshall wrote. “Additionally, it currently takes up to one full billing cycle for a customer to change electric suppliers. This is much too long and results in customers being stuck with high rates for a period of time after they request to be switched to another supplier.”
— J.L.K. •