Daily Money Tip: Mercurial power rates: Tales from the trenches

Posted: March 26, 2014

So many of you wrote in about skyrocketing electric bills that we asked to tell some of your stories. Power-price hikes especially hurt seniors and those on fixed incomes, and customer complaints range all over Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and up and down the East Coast.

David Novick, a Yardley-based financial planner, told us he was conducting a routine review for some elderly clients who were complaining about their electric bills. The supplier in question was Pennsylvania Gas & Electric.

"Their rate is now $0.29 per kilowatt-hour. That is more than triple the going rate. These people are in their 80s and did notice the increase. They called the utility to complain and were told that it was due to the cold winter. Their electric usage was not much different than past years."

To make matters more complicated, electricity customers here in Pennsylvania and New Jersey are often paying a deregulated utility in a completely different state, such as Verde Energy in Norwalk, Conn., and Major Energy in Rockland County, N.Y., according to such readers as Daniel Velazquez.

"One senior housing complex was living at 50 degrees," said Victoria Hackett, staff attorney with the Consumer Office of Consumer Counsel in New Britain, Conn., who has fielded complaints about suppliers also doing business in this region. "That's not a choice seniors should have to make."

In New Jersey

Customers can file complaints with the state's Board of Public Utilities ( www.state.nj.us/bpu). Click on "Customer Assistance" to learn more about unauthorized switching or billing. The board has received about 1,200 complaints to date this year, especially for a practice called "slamming," in which customers' utility rates or service are changed without their knowledge.

Call the Board of Public Utilities at 800-624-0241 or 609-341-9188. The 609 number referred us to the BPU website and to the New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel in Trenton ( www.state.nj.us/rpa), reachable by telephone at 609-984-1460.

In Pennsylvania

Call the Office of Attorney General's Consumer Protection Bureau at 800-441-2555 or Tanya McCloskey at the state Office of the Consumer Advocate at 800-684-6560. The Consumer Advocate's website is also helpful: www.oca.state.pa.us.

To file by e-mail, send a consumer complaint form, available at www.attorneygeneral.gov (click on "Complaints"). Download and/or scan all relevant documents and send to consumers@attorneygeneral.gov.



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