The Public Utility Commission didn't officially say it's investigating First Energy Solutions at its monthly meeting in Harrisburg Friday.
But the PUC has made clear it doesn't appreciate FES attempting to charge fixed-rate customers an additional $5 to $15 surcharge to recoup losses from a cold and expensive winter.
In the past, the PUC has strongly stated that fixed should mean fixed with no hidden charges, and it reiterated that it could - emphasis on could - take more forceful action in the future.
"We do have the power, that if a company unjustly collects money from a consumer, we can order refunds," said PUC spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher, who added such action is "a big if" but possible if the PUC felt it was appropriate.
Of bigger concern to the PUC are the 3.5 million Pennsylvanians who have not shopped their electricity in the deregulated marketplace. More than two million have shopped in recent years, while those who did nothing get their electricity from default providers like PPL or MetEd.
That's a bad idea, according to the head of the PUC, because the same forces that drove prices up for variable-rate customers in the winter will hit those default customers this spring. Rob Powelson, the PUC Chairman, is urging customers who have not shopped, or those who got burned by variable-rate deals, to get shopping.
"Those customers that want to go back to the mother ship, the electric distribution company: buyer beware," Powelson said. "You're gonna have a situation potentially unfolding in June where those default rates are gonna go up, so you're gonna get a double whammy."
Default rates reset quarterly and they're expected to go up June 1 to help utilities recoup losses from the winter.
But consumers can protect themselves, Powelson says, by shopping now and selecting the lowest fixed rate deal they can find.
"Let me say it unequivocally, 'get back out in the market.' For those customers that were in the variable rate products and had a bad experience, get back in the market," he said.