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March 6, 2014

Electric bill complaints keep growing

NEW CASTLE — If your electric bill has skyrocketed, it might help to complain to your electric supplier.

One local resident actually received some money back from Pennsylvania Gas and Electric after she had called to express her shock at the size of her electric bill. Another local resident on CAP found that this low-income assistance program, which has been around for several years, will pay $200 toward his bill.

Deborah Wallace of New Castle said she had received a check for $226.10 from the company, although it wasn’t enough to convince her to stay with them. Wallace said she is still switching back to Penn Power, even though she was informed “it will take one or two cycles for them to get me off.”

Wallace explained she initially switched to Pennsylvania Gas and Electric because she was told her bills would be much lower for her all-electric home.

Her October bill was $283. In November it was $443. The last straw was her latest bill of $789.69. “I live in a very small home and almost had a heart attack,” she said.

Like Wallace, another local customer, Cindy Pallerino had switched to a supplier with a variable rate. Some suppliers offer a fixed price, others have kilowatt hour rates that fluctuate.

Pallerino of Union Township said she had received a $400 electric bill last week. Her normal bill is $130 and she heats with gas, not electric. Pallerino was also a customer of Pennsylvania Gas and Electric but said she immediately called and switched companies.

Al Russo, another Union Township resident, switched back from Dominion Energy Solutions to Penn Power when he received a $270 bill, which was almost $100 more than his usual bill of $180. Russo also heats with gas and said he was not running space heaters.

He said he did not feel his usage was high enough to account for the increase. When he compared rates, he found that Dominion’s kilowatt hour cost was three cents higher than Penn Power’s.

Even though variable rate customers — whose rates can fluctuate monthly — were hit hardest, some fixed rate customers also are dismayed with their electric bills.

Cindy Biddle of New Castle, a Penn Power customer, said she compared this year’s bills to last and could not believe the dramatic increase. She said she understands some of it is because of increased usage because of the extremely cold weather.

However, she said, she cannot believe the weather caused her bill to jump from $76 in January 2013 to $289.62 a year later. She said that although the bill covered Christmas, her usage should have been down because she was away and burned no holiday lights. She said her household size also decreased in the last year, resulting in even less energy usage.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission said it had received 2,580 complaints from Jan. 1 through Friday. That’s up from 750 less than two weeks ago. Spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher said the agency had received 235 complaints over the same period last year.

Electric customers can call their electric supplier to see if any discounts or payment arrangements are available. They also should complain to the Public Utility Commission at www.puc.pa.gov. and the office of Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane. They can go to www.attorneygeneral.gov, click on “complaints” and print out a form they can email or mail.

Finally, customers considering switching can compare kilowatt hour rates among all companies available to them at www.papowerswitch.com. They also can “like” PAPowerSwitch on Facebook for more information.

(Email: grzebieniak@ncnewsonline.com)

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