#wpxianswers: Channel 11 takes your most asked questions about variable-rate electric companies to PUC


PITTSBURGH - You asked, we listened. Channel 11 News heard your complaints about skyrocketing electric bills and after investigating, the root cause is variable rate electric companies.

 We’ve compiled a list of your most frequently asked questions and got answers from the Public Utilities Commission.

Q: My concern is for the elderly who are on fixed incomes, and obviously cannot afford to pay a bill like this. Are they going to lose their power over this?

PUC answer:  Customers can be terminated for not paying the bills. If they have opened a complaint with the PUC (and received a complaint number in doing so), they can hold off on paying the bill for which they have filed the complaint. They cannot be terminated for the amount disputed as long as the complaint is active before the PUC. They do need to pay any bills moving forward and may have to pay all or part of the bill they are disputing once the dispute is resolved.

 Customers can call their utility and ask for a payment arrangements. Customers of any income level may be eligible for a payment arrangement. We also are encouraging customers to call their utility and inquire about low-income programs that are available to help.


Q: How can I pay this off? I am so worried about this. Are we all going to have our services cut off?

PUC answer: See above.


Q: How am I supposed to drop IDT Energy (or any other supplier) if I can’t get ahold of them? I call every day and email, and still nothing.

PUC Answer: If they are not getting response from the company, they should call the PUC and file a complaint explaining (when asked if they called the supplier first) they have tried repeatedly to contact the supplier with no luck. Continue to try and reach the supplier, but at that point, the PUC may be able to help.


Q: My bill last month was $122 and now it’s $389 in Feb. I have IDT. Do we have to pay or can we get a partial refund?

PUC Answer: Customers need to work with the supplier to see if they can get a refund or adjustment on their bills. They do need to pay the bill, unless they have an open complaint, then they may be able to postpone payment – see above for more information.



Q: Do I have to get a smart meter if I don’t want one? Will I still have to pay for one?

PUC answer: Act 129 did not allow customers to opt-out of receiving a smart meter. And the law reads that the costs are spread across all customers.

 Q: How is it possible that household "A", with 2400 square feet of living space, the most up-to-date AV equipment, 4 big screen TV's, a hot tub, 2 teenagers and a full, finished basement are paying $4.22 for a smart meter, (that they don't have) while household "B", with 1200 square feet of living space, is gone from the home over 12 hours per day, uses "energy efficient lighting" in 90% of that living space, reduces the thermostat from 68 to 67, and is paying $15.43 for a smart meter (that she doesn't have), based on "usage"? Where is the language in Act 129 indicating that is was OK for the power companies to charge customers outrageous amounts of money for equipment that they don't have, but will continue to keep paying for at least until 2023?

PUC Answer: Are they both the same electric company? The plans, programs and costs differ from company to company (West Penn Power to Duquesne etc.).

The language in the law is found in 66 Pa. C.S. 2807(f)(7), which reads as follows:

“An electric distribution company may recover reasonable and prudent costs of providing smart meter technology under paragraph (2)(ii) and (iii), as determined by the commission.  This paragraph includes annual depreciation and capital costs over the life of the smart meter technology and the cost of any system upgrades that the electric distribution company may require to enable the use of the smart meter technology which are incurred after the effective date of this paragraph, less operating and capital cost savings realized by the electric distribution company from the installation and use of the smart meter technology.  Smart meter technology shall be deemed to be a new service offered for the first time under section 2804(4)(vi).  An electric distribution company may recover smart meter technology costs:  (i) through base rates, including a deferral for future base rate recovery of current basis with carrying charge as determined by the commission; or (ii) on a full and current basis through a reconcilable automatic adjustment clause under section 1307.”

In its June 24, 2009, Smart Meter Procurement and Installation Implementation Order at Docket No. M-2009-2092655 at 29, the Commission stated the following:

 Act 129 allows an EDC to recover “all reasonable and prudent costs of providing smart meter technology.”  In order to determine what these costs are, each EDC will document all costs relating to its smart meter deployment and installation plan.  These costs will include both capital and expense items relating to all plan elements, equipment and facilities, as well as an analysis of all related administrative costs.  More specifically, these costs would include, but not be limited to, capital expenditures for any equipment and facilities that may be required to implement the smart meter plan, as well as depreciation, operating and maintenance expenses, a return component based on the EDC’s weighted cost of capital, and taxes.  Administrative costs would include, but not be limited to, incremental costs relating to plan development, cost analysis, measurement and verification, and reporting.  In addition, the plan should include cost estimates for testing, upgrades, maintenance and personnel training.  The EDC must also provide sufficient support to demonstrate that all such costs are reasonable and prudent with respect to its smart meter plan.  Consistent with Section 315(a), the burden of proof shall be on the EDC.  66 Pa.C.S. § 315(a).

 The following case docket and the orders approving the plans and cost recovery:

West Penn:  http://www.puc.pa.gov/about_puc/consolidated_case_view.aspx?Docket=M-2013-2341991.