BY JOHN K. MANNA JMANNA@NCNEWSONLINE.COM
For the last 10 years or more, utility rates for Penn Power customers have gone unchanged. But that will end in January, when prices are expected to go up. The question now is by how much? The answer may be known by October, when the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission certifies the new prices. "Prices are going to go up," said Jennifer Kocher, PUC press secretary. "We don't know by how much." The new rates are a result of Pennsylvania's 1996 electric competition law that requires electric distribution companies to provide generation at market prices. Electric generation prices no longer will be regulated by the PUC. Instead, prices will be set by the wholesale energy market, Kocher said. Under the law, Penn Power, like other electric companies, has been in a transition period. Penn Power's transition period, during which rates were capped at 1992 prices, ends this year. As the transition period comes to an end, customers who don't choose an alternate electric generation supplier must be provided one by Penn Power, which is known as the provider of last resort. Penn Power, a subsidiary of FirstEnergy Corp., serves customers in all of Lawrence and Mercer counties and parts of Beaver, Butler, Allegheny and Crawford counties. In April, the PUC approved an interim plan for Penn Power that covers the period from Jan. 1, 2007, through May 31, 2008. The plan called for wholesale electric suppliers to submit bids. Separate bids were solicited for residential, industrial and commercial customers. The PUC is reviewing those bids. The bids that are certified will be the rates for Penn Power that are expected to be announced in October. A newsletter published by Penn Power in July said it is "reasonable to expect that inflation, environmental expenses and higher fuel costs will be reflected" in the bids. "You'll still continue to pay one bill," said Ellen Raines, FirstEnergy spokeswoman. That will be the case regardless of whether customers choose their own supplier or go with the provider of last resort. When the interim plan expires on May 31, 2008, Kocher said, the PUC intends to have a plan in place that applies to the entire state rather than individual service areas.