The Public Utility Commission oversees utilities in the state and its commissioners appeared before the House Appropriations Committee Wednesday morning. The first quarter of the meeting dealt with variable rate electric bills that have spiked in recent weeks.
We've reported on it numerous times, and lawmakers have heard it numerous times from their constituents.
PUC Chairman Robert Powelson assured legislatures that his office has also heard the furor and is investigating. He acknowledged "media reports" in his opening remarks to the committee.
"We have over 400 informal complaints that have been filed regarding these variable rate products," Powelson said.
Representative Scott Conklin - (D) Centre County - was perhaps the most aggressive questioner. He told of constituent complaints about exorbitant bills that could force business in his district to close.
"Right now on their website they have 7.4 cents listed while they're charging 15 cents," Conklin said with disdain. "I was in construction business for years; this is bait and switch. It's classic bait and switch. People are going bankrupt. These people are nothing but sharks in the state of Pennsylvania."
Powelson said, "If there was bait and switch, I can assure you [...] we will make a loud and clear statement, 'You're not welcome to do business in Pennsylvania.' We will revoke a license."
"We have to go after these companies somehow to bring them into line," Conklin countered. "Because they are literally ripping off the public, legally."
"We don't regulate the pricing of those supply contracts," Powelson responded. "We approve those suppliers to do business here, but we don't approve the pricing models."
Representative Robert Godshall - (R) Montgomery - was also fired up about spiking electric bills. "We've got to do something here. It's unacceptable the way it's going. I know you license these individuals, and I know they can charge pretty well whatever they want, but something has got to be done."
Powelson conceded the real problem is when consumers want to switch out of a bad contract. He asked lawmakers for legislation that would require utilities to switch immediately.
"It takes customers 16 to 30 days to make a switch," Powelson said, calling it a 'dirty little secret.' "By the way, in Texas you can do that in ten minutes. So that customer that I want to get out, that you want to get out of the bad product, is gonna wait 16 to 30 days in Pennsylvania's marketplace. That's unacceptable."
Powelson promised to help lawmakers craft legislation, but Conklin concluded, "I've never seen anything like this. It's like the Wild Wild West."