By: CANDY WOODALL |
If your electricity bill is higher than usual, the state attorney general wants to hear from you.
In the past five days, the Office of Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection has received 7,790 complaints from Pennsylvanians who reported an upswing in electricity costs.
The office has received calls from York County residents, but the office isn’t tracking the number of complaints by county, said spokesman J.J. Abbott.
“We’re still reviewing the complaints. We’re in a fact-finding area of things and will decide what to do next,” she said.
The Public Utility Commission has also received about 3,000 complaints, according to PUC spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher.
Some residents have reported high bills that have increased about 300 percent.
The majority of complaints received by the attorney general’s office and the PUC are from customers who have selected alternative suppliers.
Those suppliers aren’t utility providers like Met-Ed or PPL. Instead, they are alternative energy companies that charge a variable rate, which is largely dictated by the market.
For example, demand and prices increased in January when below-average temperatures chilled the region.
The concern: While increased usage during a cold snap can cause higher bills, Attorney General Kathleen Kane is concerned companies could be increasing prices above increased costs.
That kind of price gouging is illegal in Pennsylvania during a state of emergency, which Gov. Tom Corbett declared on Feb. 5 during a snowstorm.
The attorney general’s office also received complaints from state residents who said their Met-Ed bills were higher than usual because of estimated readings.
York Township resident Lisa Welsh said she had estimated readings three months in a row.
Last month, she received a credit on her bill after the company did an actual reading, but this month’s bill included another estimated reading.
“Why can they not read the meters every month? I made some energy-saving moves and would really like to know if I am really saving any money,” she said.
A winter full of snow and ice has been especially harsh on technicians who have had to navigate rough elements to get to meters, said Met-Ed spokesman Scott Surgeoner.
“We don’t always get to the meters when there’s bad weather,” he said.
However, Met-Ed’s electricity rates haven’t changed. If customers notice higher bills because of estimated readings, they’re asked to call the company for an actual reading, he said.
The requirement: By law, electricity companies are required to do actual readings every six months, Kocher said.
And according to PUC code, they should be doing them every other month, she said.
“There are some exceptions, such as periods of bad weather,” Kocher said.
The PUC is also investigating complaints of higher bills. “We’re reviewing to find any violations. If we find violations, we could issue fines,” she said.