Winter price spikes drive 50K Pa. electric customers back to local suppliers

    Electricity customers in Pennsylvania on variable rate plans suffered from sticker shock this winter when temperatures plunged and prices spiked. That’s driven at least 50,000 customers back to their local utilities since early March, according to the state Public Utility Commission.

    Rather than shopping around for electric suppliers, those customers are letting geography choose for them, which can be a more stable option.

    However, PUC spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher said that could be more expensive for them in the long run because local or “default” utilities only update their prices every quarter, so the commission is trying to entice consumers back into the competitive marketplace.

    “We’re waiting for the final OK on some rules that will say that disclosure statements all have to look the same,” Kocher said. “It has to be in plain English and it has to spell out exactly what will happen to the rates.”

    Kocher said the new disclosure statements could take effect in June.

    The PUC is also pushing for new rules that would help customers switch their rate plans faster. Some customers have had to wait through a whole billing cycle and pay higher rates while waiting for the switch to a new plan to take effect.

    But, if approved by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission, utilities will need at least six months to make that change. To avoid giving customers another round of sticker shock this summer, the PUC is also updating its online marketplace.

    More than 2.1 million customers are still with competitive suppliers, either through variable rate plans or temporary fixed plans. After receiving thousands of complaints from consumers, the PUC and State Attorney General Kathleen Kane are investigating the price spikes.

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