Customers who shop for the lowest-price Pennsylvania electricity may get a holiday present from the state’s Public Utility Commission. For years, energy consumers have had to double check prices being offered for electricity. All too often, the prices providers listed for their electricity did not include other fees that substantially increased customers’ monthly bills.
That problem now has the PUC proposing changes to how you shop for Pennsylvania electricity. In its recent Notice of Proposed Rule Making Order, the PUC recommends new standards for the way electricity suppliers describe plans to customers so they can better understand them.
At the heart of the rule change is the notion of the Price-To-Compare (PTC). The PTC was originally set up so that consumers could shop for electricity by making an “apples-to-apples” comparison of electric rates and plans. Since the PTC price was all-inclusive, rates offered by electricity suppliers were expected to be all-inclusive, too.
Except, PUC rules didn’t specify that suppliers’ rates had to be all-inclusive. By leaving out the additional fees and additional monthly charges, electricity supplier plans were falsely advertised as being significantly cheaper than the PTC. In recent years, several suppliers have tacked on enrollment fees, monthly usage fees, and other payments that make it impossible to accurately compare rates with the PTC rate.
The proposed new rule emphasizes the requirement for electric service providers provide bundled pricing which includes all their charges, fees, as well as state and local taxes. Advertised prices shall must also reflect prices in disclosure statements and billed prices. This also includes introductory offer pricing be clearly stated for customers and providing more information about variable priced plans. Electric suppliers will also be required to use common, consistent terminology in their communication with customers. In this way, customers can make the “apples-to-apples” comparison of electric rates using all-inclusive pricing.
Another significant rule modification concerns early termination fees (ETFs). The PUC received complaints from customers who chose to switch to a new provider when they were notified that their contract with their electricity supplier was expiring. When these customers made the switch after receiving the notice — but before the actual date their service was to end — their supplier assessed an ETF against them. In some cases, that ETF can be over $200.
Not surprisingly, many customers in this position felt cheated. As the PUC points out, “…the customer has no actual control over the timing of the switch – it is ultimately up to the supplier and the utility as to just when a switch occurs.”
What the PUC proposes here is to ban providers from imposing ETFs once they have sent out a contract expiration notification to the customer.
The proposed rules were adopted by the PUC in 5-0 vote. They now face a 60 day comment period. After which, it’s unknown when they might take effect, possibly before summer.
Changes To How You Shop for Pennsylvania Electricity?
Because these PUC changes have not yet taken effect, the issues they raise should alert customers to continue to be cautious when they shop for Pennsylvania electricity. Consumers should review plans carefully and read the terms of service. Be on the lookout for fees and monthly charges that are NOT part of the advertised price. They will raise raise the cost of what you pay for the plan and reduce the advertised savings.
Also remember that while many providers may be willing to waive the ETF during the last 60 days of a contract, not all will. Again, if you’re shopping for a new electricity supplier, it’s a good idea to check out how they rate for customer service at sites like https://www.paenergyratings.com. After all, it’s your home and your hard earned money and you want the best energy service you can get.