By Jon Delano

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — When Jenette Johnson opened her electric bill, she was shocked.

“A $739 bill,” she told KDKA money editor Jon Delano.

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Yep — that’s 739 dollars!

With no increase in usage over the previous month, her electricity supplier had jacked up the rates without notice.

“Their rate for kilowatt per hour had been tripled,” Johnson said.

Jenette and her husband Adam live in a modest home in Uniontown, and they could not believe what their electricity supplier — IDT Energy — was doing, raising prices from $.06 a kilowatt hour to more than $.17 a kilowatt hour.

“This is price-gouging,” exclaimed Adam.

They may not be alone.

A few years ago, over 2 million Pennsylvanians opted to do what government officials encouraged them to do — shop around for a cheaper supplier of electricity under the state’s new electricity choice program.

In this area, Duquesne Light and West Penn Power continue to transmit electricity to area homes but consumers could opt for a different cheaper supplier.

“Switched to IDT,” said Adam, “and everything was good for close to two years, and then we got this bill.”

“Shop, Switch, Save” reads the Public Utility Commission’s advertising — but the switch is turning out to be costly, not a saving, for some.

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Given how confusing all this rate stuff is, KDKA-TV went to the PUC in Harrisburg to get some answers.

“The cold weather that we’ve had, the extremely cold winter that we’ve had, has increased electricity rates on the wholesale market so the variable rates that customers may have signed up for are going up,” said PUC spokesperson Jennifer Kocher.

Kocher says supplier rates range widely, from just below $.06 to more than $.40 per kilowatt hour.

While the PUC does not regulate supplier prices, it is evaluating ways to improve marketing practices that border on bait and switch, as well as to upgrade the monthly bills “to put more supplier information, to make that supplier information more prominent on a customer’s bill.”

As for requiring suppliers to give advance notice of price hikes so consumers can switch to a cheaper supplier, Kocher says the PUC may need legislative authority to do that.

So what’s a consumer to do right now?

The PUC says, don’t wait for a bill like the Johnsons got. Check with your electrical supplier right now, and find out if they’re jacking up your rates. If they are, switch to another supplier.

That’s exactly what the Johnsons did, returning to West Penn Power for all their electricity services. Until that happens next month, the Johnsons have turned off their lights.

“We turned the heat way down. We have a fire going. We have all the lights unplugged, everything that we don’t have to,” noted Adam.

“I don’t want to give IDT a single dime that I don’t have to.”

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