PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — For weeks, KDKA has been reporting stories of skyrocketing electricity bills.
Those hurt the most usually had a variable rate plan — that allowed rates to go up monthly.
But now it turns out even those on fixed rate plans may have been burned.
High electricity supply bills have taken a toll out of consumers this winter under Pennsylvania’s so-called electric choice program.
But the chairman of the state’s Public Utility Commission defends the choice program, saying customers should have stuck to fixed rate plans, not those variable rate ones.
“You’re not getting calls from customers on fixed rate products,” Rob Powelson told KDKA money editor Jon Delano.
“I happen to be on a three-year fixed rate product with First Energy Solutions. I’m immune to this because my supplier, FES, has locked me in to a three year fixed rate price.”
But not all customers are as lucky as PUC Chairman Powelson.
Meet Kevin Garofalo of Brookline who signed up for a fixed rate plan.
“I would never have signed up for a variable rate, and I assumed a fixed rate would stay what it was until I decided to change it.”
Turned out that Garofalo’s fixed rate was good for only six months, and then his electricity supplier — Clearview — jumped his electric bill to $943.
Without notice, Clearview had switched his plan to a variable rate one.
Delano: “Did you get notice from them?”
Garofalo: “I got no notice whatsoever from them.”
Delano: “Did they call you?”
Garofalo: “They did not call me, did not write me, did not email me. Nothing.”
Delano: “So they flipped your fixed rate to a variable rate?”
Garofalo: “Yes, and I had no idea they did it.”
And under PUC rules, apparently it’s all legal.
But Powelson says the commission is reviewing current practices.
“We have zero tolerance for suppliers that are hoodwinking customers,” said Powelson.
It remains to be seen what the PUC does about this practice.
The term of your fixed rate plan is key.
Find out what it is – six months, one year, three years — and then three months before it expires, call your supplier to renew it or find a cheaper supplier or go back to your default company like Duquesne Light or West Penn Power.
Unfortunately for consumers, current PUC rules do not require your supplier to give you notice that they are switching you to a different variable plan.
However, the supplier is required to give consumers on fixed plans at least 90 days notice of the expiration of that plan.