PUC, facing customer backlash, seeks more supplier disclosure

Posted: March 21, 2014

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, under siege from record customer backlash over high winter electricity prices, is moving to force power suppliers to fully disclose the details of their deals.

The commission proposed Wednesday regulation changes that will require supplier disclosure statements to provide greater uniform detail in plain English, especially pertaining to variable-rate deals, which have generated the most complaints.

The new rulemaking measure follows a PUC announcement Tuesday that it would dramatically speed up the time it takes for customers to switch suppliers.

Many customers upset about their high bills expressed frustration with the time it takes to change suppliers, said Jennifer Kocher, a PUC spokeswoman.

Currently, it takes up to 40 days to switch suppliers, depending on when the next meter reading is scheduled. The proposed rule would require the change to occur within three days of the request.

The PUC's changes were prompted by the large number of complaints it has received from customers enrolled in plans with variable rates that spiked in January, when wholesale power prices ballooned. Some customers have reported rates that quadrupled.

The PUC said that 12,000 consumers have contacted the commission this year with concerns about electric-supply prices, and that more than 4,800 filed informal complaints with its Bureau of Consumer Services.

The consumer uproar has inspired a raft of new legislation, including proposals that would cap the amount a supplier could raise rates. Competitive supplier rates are currently unregulated, unlike the default rates that incumbent utilities charge customers who do not switch.

The state House Consumer Affairs Committee, chaired by Rep. Robert Godshall (R., Montgomery), has scheduled a public hearing on variable rates for Thursday morning.

The PUC also has altered its electric-marketing website, papowerswitch.com, to include a prominent warning about variable rates. Variable-rate offers are now listed in orange, while fixed-rate prices are listed in green.

The new disclosure rules would require suppliers to reveal more information on price variability, including historical pricing information and whether there are limits on variability.

The rules would require separate mailings for fixed-term contracts that are expiring. Many customers who were on variable-rate plans had originally signed up for fixed rates but failed to notice that their contracts changed after their plans expired.


215-854-2947 @maykuth

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