There's electricity in the air at the Public Utility Commission's complaint hotline in Harrisburg.
The joint's been jumpin' with calls from ticked-off consumers, upset about variable rate electric bills that have doubled, tripled, even quadrupled. A spokesperson says there have been nearly 1,500 calls in the past three weeks over bills that spiked in January.
There are lots of people, upset at lots of companies, over lots of dollars charged, but it seems one company has delivered more than its share of sticker shock: Pennsylvania Gas and Electric.
The PUC spokesperson confirms that it has gotten numerous complaints about PG&E. abc27, which has been airing stories on the topic for three weeks, has also gotten numerous angry emails, and PG&E is often the culprit.
Here's a sampling just from recent days.
From John: "I feel like a sucker, taken for hundreds of dollars. I since have found out that Pennsylvania Gas and Electric can basically charge any amount they want."
Tami writes: "Pennsylvania Gas and Electric doubled my rate. I have a $1,400 electric bill, and I don't even heat my house with electric. Lawmakers need to step up and do something about these companies baiting us in and ripping us off."
And from Jim: "I am another consumer who got taken by this company.......I saw no reason to call PG&E because why would they lower my bill if I've already canceled their service?"
Well, Jim, we did call PG&E. Customer service representative Steve Price admitted there have been a lot of complaint calls. But he said the company's trying to make things right.
"I know for a fact that we're handling each case by their individual issue."
Steve did reiterate that the company's variable rate is "highly competitive," and over 12 months is cheaper than PPL's default rate.
He didn't point out that last month it was, in some cases, four times higher than PPL's rate, and one bill at that price would dwarf any yearly savings a customer might see.
PG&E does list a Harrisburg address on Linglestown Road and the number 113. I went and found a store with a wall of mailboxes inside. The store's owner confirmed PG&E rents mailbox number 113. She also said several people a day have shown up looking for the company to complain about their bills.
A little more digging shows that Pennsylvania Gas and Electric is actually a subsidiary of a Florida company called US Gas and Electric. PG&E has siblings, with the same company logo, in Connecticut, D.C., Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Ohio.
So the company is supplying electricity to much of the country, but it's also supplying the Pennsylvania PUC with lots of complaints. The commission has heard it, is looking into it, but is not yet ready to comment on it without concrete evidence of wrongdoing.
"I don't want to pass judgement or prejudice any case that may come before us with PG&E," said PUC Vice Chairman John Coleman. But then he added, "if there are bad actors the commission will respond and it will be very decisive."
In the meantime, abc27 is hearing that your complaints to the PUC are being heard in many instances. We're hearing that some electric suppliers are retroactively reducing their electric rates for January and offering rebate checks for those super-high bills.
It seems that when a complaint is officially filed with the PUC, the commission contacts the company and it's likely in the company's best interest to make angry customers less angry. That is happening so if you have a high bill and haven't called the PUC, do so.
The PUC, however, said its call volumes are very high and patience is greatly appreciated.