Skyrocketing electric bills: Channel 11 investigates

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PITTSBURGH —

After receiving many complaints about unusually high electric bills this winter, Channel 11 News began to investigate.

And even though some people with the high bills used less electricity month-to-month, they were slammed with a bill they weren’t expecting.

WPXI’s Gordon Loesch spoke to one a restaurant owner in McKeesport who said she’s owned her business for 20 years and has never gotten an electric bill like the one she received last month.

“How can I afford to pay these rates? It’s impossible,” Vicki Rizzo said.

Rizzo said her bill went from $402 in December to $931 in January. As it turns out, the increased bill was a result of the cost per kilowatt. Rizzo’s rates jumped from 6 cents per kilowatt to nearly 23 cents per kilowatt.

The same thing happened Kenneth Holland. He’s a former police chief who now owns the Liberty Dairy Store.

Holland said his bill more than doubled, going from $461 to $968.

“I went and checked.  This is the real bill.  It's just too hard to believe,” said Holland.

Both Rizzo and Holland are using IDT Energy, one of dozens of electricity suppliers that arrived three years ago when the state opened the market to competition.

IDT Energy offers what's called a variable rate which can fluctuate depending on the market. .

“It's a business decision on part of the company, so unfortunately the public utility commission does not have any jurisdiction over the prices the suppliers can charge,” Public Utilities Commission spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher said.

Kocher said suppliers currently don't have to give any warning about price jumps either. The agency has received about 400 new complaints about the spike in prices from several companies.

Hours before this story was set to air on Channel 11 News the PUC released a statement saying they “opened a proceeding to examine the rules, policies and consumer education measures regarding variable rate electric generation products.” Read full statement HERE.

IDT released a statement saying, their “prices reflect the underlying cost of electricity, which skyrocketed in January because of the unusually cold and prolonged winter weather.”

While there are benefits to variable plans, Holland and Rizzo have already canceled their service and are warning others about the risk of rates that can change so drastically.

IDT Energy is not the only company offering variable rates.

A company spokesman also said that rates are beginning to normalize and decrease, and that in the long run rates should compare with local utilities.