Harrisburg Capitol Building

The Public Utility Commission is giving interested parties only seven days to submit comments to its proposed change in regulations covering electric retail markets in Pennsylvania.

The expedited change in the regulation stems from more than 12,000 complaints the PUC received since January from customers on variable-rate plans. Their electric costs tripled or quadrupled because of the harsh winter weather, according to a spokeswoman for the PUC.

“We are hoping to have our end of the changes finished by June,” said PUC press secretary Jennifer Kocher. “Then the language has to go through the oversight process, IRRC (the Independent Regulatory Review Commission), the standing committees and the attorney general.”

The proposed changes cover the length of time a customer must stay with any one supplier and the disclosure language in contracts between residential and commercial customers and their electric suppliers.

Kocher said it can take between 11 and 40 days to switch electric suppliers, whether changing suppliers or moving to or from the utility for electric supply.

Under disclosure, the PUC is proposing more contractual information on conditions of price variability, including whether or not there are limits on variability, a clear statement of the price per kilowatt hour for the first billing cycle of electric generation, and customer access to historical pricing information.

Meanwhile, the state House of Representatives consumer affairs committee held a hearing March 20 into HB 2104, which would likewise shorten the time it takes for customers to switch suppliers, among other changes.

State Rep. Robert W. Godshall, R-Montgomery, chairman of the committee, said some of the people who signed variable-rate contracts had no idea their costs could go up as much as they did.

“I’ve heard from many constituents who signed up for variable-rate supplier contracts and received an initial rate of 6¢/kWh for the first month of service or other promotional period, but then received bills charging as much as 30¢/kWh for the generation portion of their electric bill,” Godshall said.

He added that his legislation is just a starting point for the debate and he expects amendments to it throughout the legislative process.

— John L. Kennedy, for the Law Weekly