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"Don't blame us," electric company exec tells lawmakers - abc27 WHTM

"Don't blame us," electric company exec tells lawmakers

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) -

"It's not our fault."

"We were victims, too."

Those were the messages from Doug Marcille, President and CEO of U.S. Gas and Electric, parent company of Pennsylvania Gas and Electric. He flew in from Florida to personally meet with legislators at the Capitol Tuesday and explain why his company has gotten thousands of complaints from PaG&E customers irate over sky-high electric bills.

I caught up with Marcille between meeting with lawmakers and staff. He explained that PaG&E buys electricity on the wholesale market, and when prices spiked in January his company got burned.

"We did not price gouge. Price gouging is making a profit on an extreme set of circumstances. We actually lost money. We charged, in some cases, 30 (cents per kilowatt-hour) and we were paying 40. Long term, that's not a good business model, obviously."

But PaG&E's business model does include cold-calling potential customers.

Esther Keeney of Dillsburg says she got one of those phone calls last summer promising big savings.

"I didn't want to go with them, " Esther said. "I kept saying no, but he said I could do better so then I did. I went with them."

Esther is 72, on a fixed income, and living in a one-bedroom apartment. Her bill last September was just over $20 dollars, which she says is about normal. Last month, it skyrocketed to almost $275.

"I hate 'em," Esther said of PaG&E. "I shouldn't say that, but they took me."

At the Capitol, Marcille was touting that PaG&E has, on a case by case basis, given back more than $2.5 million in rebates.

I mention Esther and Marcille reacts immediately.

"That's a perfect example of someone we can help," he said.

I sit with Esther as she calls customer service in search of a refund. She says she's been trying for days and has been unable to get through. Marcille had told me earlier that the company hired 30 additional people to beef up the customer service phone lines.

In less than three minutes, we're on the line with a man who identified himself as Joseph. He explains that everyone was caught by the freak spiking of wholesale energy prices. He then offers Esther a rebate if she signs up with a PaG&E fixed-rate plan for the next two years. Her reaction is immediate.

"No," she said shaking her head at the phone. "I'm not interested."

Joseph replied, "Well, that would be the only way to get a refund for this bill."

I explain to Joseph who I am and that I had spoken earlier in the day to the president and CEO of the company. He puts me on hold.

When he returns to the phone in a few minutes, he says he must end the call. He takes my information and promises Esther and I that someone with the company will be getting back to us.

An hour later, Marcille, still in Harrisburg, calls me to say that Joseph didn't understand and he did something he was not supposed to do. Marcille insisted that strings are "never, ever" attached to rebates.

Joseph was one of the new hires, Marcille said, and he's been removed from the floor and will be retrained.

Esther got a call minutes later promising a $167 rebate.

The company's president certainly did his best to mend fences and repair his company's image with lawmakers, but clearly he's still got work to do with everyday customers in the Midstate, like Esther, who are convinced PaG&E is ripping off consumers.

"I don't believe him," Esther said "I don't. Would you?"

 

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