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Power companies shocking customers with high electric bills

By: Dennis Owens |

“I’m very angry,” said Andy Wolfe, a policeman in the Midstate.

Wolfe, who lives in Adams County, is upset about his most recent electricity bill from Pennsylvania Gas and Electric. He typically paid between $300 and $400 for electricity through Met Ed.

This month?

“Just under $2,400.”

Andy’s variable rate with PAG&E jumped from eight cents to 28 cents per kilowatt hour.

“It was just complete shock,” Wolfe said. “My wife cried for a day, just because there’s no way we can afford that.”

Andy’s not alone.

Dozens of Midstaters contacted abc27 with horror story after horror story following a first-person account we ran last week about my own hardships with American Power and Gas. I signed up for a six-cent rate but didn’t read the fine print about it being a variable rate. It jumped to 22 cents per kilowatt hour the second month, and my typical $300 bill zoomed to $850.

I was sure that when I originally signed up, the sales person promised me a competitive rate within a few cents of the utility company’s rate.

I decided to test that and called American Power and Gas Monday afternoon. A woman who identified herself as Kelly Foster answered and told me she was in Florida. I asked if I could record our conversation, and she agreed.

Four times within a four-minute conversation she boasted that American offered a “competitive” rate.

“We really do have to have a highly competitive variable rate every month in order to keep our customers happy,” Kelly said cheerfully over the phone.

But, I pressed, I’d heard of American charging customers 22 cents per kilowatt hour. I also told her I know of unhappy customers. I didn’t tell her my wife is still fuming at the prospect of an $850 bill.

At that point Kelly, from Florida, played the weather card.

“Have you heard of anything called a polar vortex?” Kelly asked, sounding like a knowledgeable forecaster. “That’s been affecting all of the utilities as well as suppliers. Have you heard of anything like that?

Yes, I’ve heard of the polar vortex. I’ve also heard that utilities are charging local customers about eight cents for their power and American’s at 22 cents.

Andy says he got the same sales pitch from Pennsylvania Gas and Electric, which promptly charged him 28 cents.

“They promised it would always be competitive with Met Ed,” he said. “Well, 20 cents a kilowatt hour difference is not competitive. That’s not even in the same ballpark.”

But all the publicity did help Teresa Justice. She signed up for American’s variable rate. Moments later, she saw our story. Moments after that, she called up and canceled with American and signed up with a different supplier at a fixed rate.

“Oh my gosh! You saved my pocketbook,” Teresa said with great animation. “Because what happens if I get a bill for $850? I mean, that’s a mortgage. You’ve been a godsend, thank you.”

The Public Utility Commission regulates power companies but has very little—pardon the pun—power to reign in bad actors. A PUC spokeswoman confirmed that it is investigating Pennsylvania Power and Gas. She further said that PAP&G has agreed to reduce outrageously high bills for some customers who have complained.

If you feel your bill is unfairly high, the PUC wants to hear from you in the form of an official complaint. That way it can target companies that are deceiving customers.