Pa. regulators examining skyrocketing electric bills

After the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission received nearly 800 complaints from consumers seeing their electric rates skyrocket, commissioners have voted to more closely examine how the utility companies are marketing their plans to customers and whether they’re doing enough to disclose the terms of those plans.

Stephanie Thompson, who lives in West Manchester Township, York County, entered into a variable-rate plan with North American Power last summer.

In September, her bill was calculated at about 8 cents per kilowatt hour, which translated to a bill of about $60.

This month, she got a bill for nearly $900.

“I just wanted to cry since we have two children, we’re on one income. It just seems outrageous,” said Thompson.

This month’s bill was calculated at a rate of about 18 cents per kilowatt hour, more than double the rate in September. Additionally, because of the cold weather, her usage more than tripled.

Thompson said, “It’s had to push some other bills back. Especially on the cold days, you don’t want your electric turned off. So, what are you supposed to do?”

North American Power released the following statement to FOX43:

“Because of this year’s close-to-record cold weather, winter demand levels increased significantly, and have severely impacted electricity prices. 

“Although not required by any regulatory body, North American Power notified all of its variable rate customers of the increase in rates, and encouraged them to contact us to switch to a fixed rate plan.  Many customers have taken advantage of this offer and have switched to fixed rate plan.

“As a normal course of business, North American Power notifies all fixed rate customers, whose fixed rate terms are about to expire, and provides them the option to renew into a new fixed rate plan.”

State Sen. Rob Teplitz (D-15th) expressed skepticism Thursday night about the reasons for the price spikes.

“When we’ve seen situations of tripling, quadrupling electric bills whether there’s something else going on,” said Teplitz.

Teplitz also said more should be done to educate consumers on what options they have in choosing a utility company.

“I don’t think the state has done a really good job to help people make a choice and be able to understand the process for making a choice,” said Teplitz.

During the forum, representatives from the PUC, the Attorney General’s office and PPL answered customers’ questions and guided people through the website papowerswitch.com, which allows consumers to shop around and compare electric rates.

Gladys Brown, a commissioner with the PUC, said she also wants customers to be able to switch more quickly from one provider to another when rates go too high.

She’s calling on companies to make disclosure statements more user-friendly and to more clearly state that variable rates could increase without a cap.

“A lot of time (the companies) were just saying, ‘We have a competitive rate.’ And, they weren’t saying what that competitive rate was,” said Brown.

Thompson said she’s switching to Met-Ed, which has offered her a fixed-rate plan. She hopes to have her bill paid off in the next several months.