Two companies draw bulk of energy price complaints

PUC's Robert F. Powelson blasted the request.
PUC's Robert F. Powelson blasted the request. (ANDREW MAYKUTH / Inquirer)
Posted: April 04, 2014

Two competitive electrical suppliers account for more than half of the 5,732 complaints over soaring power bills that Pennsylvania regulators have received in the last two months, according to data released Wednesday.

IDT Energy Inc. and Pennsylvania Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E), which offer variable-rate electricity deals to residential customers, were the targets of 52 percent of the complaints filed this year, according to the Public Utility Commission. A total of 66 suppliers were listed.

The PUC released the accounting after its chairman, Robert F. Powelson, on Tuesday told a legislative committee in Harrisburg that seven suppliers accounted for the bulk of the complaints the agency had received this year.

Powelson told the Senate Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee that the PUC could ultimately revoke the licenses of abusive suppliers.

He blamed the tumult in competitive power markets largely on "a few bad actors that might not be in this marketplace when it's all said and done."

PUC spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher cautioned that the list does not reflect any PUC finding that a violation occurred. Nor does it distinguish if the complaint was for high bills, customer-service problems, or improper marketing practices.

It is also impossible to reliably gauge the percentage of each company's customers who complained, because a supplier's market share is not made public.

Ten suppliers account for 83 percent of the complaints filed with the PUC. The top nine are strictly energy marketing companies - they don't own power plants, but buy electricity on wholesale markets and resell it to retail customers.

IDT and PG&E denied through spokesmen that they were price-gouging. Both said they were buffeted by soaring wholesale electricity markets in January and February and passed their costs on to variable-rate customers. They said they have issued rebates totaling more than $5 million to customers who complained.

IDT urged policymakers to examine ways to stabilize wholesale prices.

"Clearly, the current power generation market structure has not been able to supply peak demand at reasonable prices and should be overhauled," the company said in a statement.

PG&E, which is a subsidiary of a company that operates in eight other states and the District of Columbia, last month issued a statement applauding the PUC's efforts to strengthen electric customer disclosure requirements and reduce the time it takes for consumers to change electricity suppliers.


TOP 10 TARGETS

Two electrical suppliers account for more than half of the 5,732 informal complaints the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission received from Feb. 1 through March 28.*

Company Complaints

IDT Energy Inc. 1567

Pennsylvania Gas & Electric 1403

Respond Power 485

American Power & Gas of Pa. 319

Hiko Energy 318

American Power Partners 160

North American Power L.L.C. 160

Great American Power L.L.C. 149

Blue Pilot Energy 133

First Energy Solutions Corp. 91

*This list does not reflect any finding by the PUC of a violation. Nor does it distinguish if the complaint was for high bills, customer service difficulties, or improper marketing practices.

SOURCE: Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission


amaykuth@phillynews.com

215-854-2947 @maykuth

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