Plug pulled on electricity-reform bill - abc27 WHTM

Plug pulled on electricity-reform bill

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"We're gonna get a bill, we're gonna get a bill," said Rep. Robert Godshall (R-Montgomery), repeating it twice in a firm voice for emphasis. "We just don't have it this week."

Godshall is determined, and on a mission, after thousands of Pennsylvania customers got burned this winter by electric bills that tripled, even quadrupled.

His legislation, House Bill 2104, is chock full of reforms that he hopes will ensure that out-of-control electric bills never hit customers again.

It would require clearer language in contracts and disclosure statements, even dictating font size. It would stop companies from dumping fixed-rate customers into the variable market after their contracts expire. It would speed up switch times to new suppliers to five days, instead of the current 30 or more. It would ban termination fees on variable rate contracts.

But most importantly, for Godshall, is a 30-percent cap on the amount a bill could increase each month.

"It's got to be in there or else it's no bill," Godshall said. "It's of no value to the consumers of Pennsylvania unless there's a cap there. And that's totally fair because in three months when you compound it, you're up to basically already a 100-percent increase."

Electric suppliers, which support many of Godshall's reforms, don't like the cap proposal. Their lobbying wing, the Retail Energy Supply Association, said caps imposed by lawmakers run counter to the intent of deregulation legislation and the concept of free markets.

"The bill would also ban certain types of products from the marketplace, namely index-based products for residential customers," Richard Hudson, RESA state chair, said in a statement. "This restriction will deprive customers of the electricity products and pricing plans in the future that rely on innovative technologies, such as smart meters."

Godshall chuckles when recalling a letter he got from an energy executive who suggested that imposing caps would be too dangerous for electricity suppliers.

"If it's too dangerous for the industry, what about the consumer?"

Godshall's bill was originally scheduled to run Wednesday, but the plug was pulled.

"I think what's happened is there are opponents to 2104. The energy companies don't like the cap," said Ray Landis, an advocacy manager for AARP, which supports 2104 because it protects seniors on fixed incomes.

Landis worries that lawmakers will be swamped by budget issues when they return June 2 and it won't get done before a potential solar vortex in the heat of summer.

"The more stalling there is on it, the harder it is to get it done by the end of June," he said.

Godshall has the same concern and he doesn't just blame the delay on energy industry lobbyists.

"I have not been happy with the way the PUC has performed," Godshall said.

He said his staff asked the Public Utility Commission for input as they crafted 2104 and then again after it was complete. Godshall says the PUC never responded until recently, when the commission raised 19 objections, stalling the process. Godshall suspects the PUC wants to kill the cap because the commission fears it will chase suppliers out of the state.

"As far as I'm concerned, it would be great to lose some of the companies that were operating here in Pennsylvania," Godshall said with a laugh.

He says he and his staff will now sit down with the PUC to address the commission's concerns.

The Public Utility Commission disputes Godshall's version of events. Its spokeswoman issued a statement saying the PUC was never asked for input until after the bill was introduced. But she concedes the commission is no fan of caps, saying the PUC questions whether caps are necessary "given the numerous other consumer protections in the bill."

Godshall hopes 2104 can move forward quickly, but with the budget vortex looming, its immediate future is uncertain.

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