Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Regulators Impatient with Duquesne Light Request

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Regulators Impatient with Duquesne Light Request

Article excerpt

Saddled with the complexities of upgrading its software systems, Duquesne Light Co. is struggling to comply with consumer protection and education rules drawn up in the aftermath of the polar vortex.

The Pittsburgh utility has filed two separate requests asking for more time to meet a spate of state Public Utility Commission requirements rolled out following a period of historically frigid weather between January and March 2014 that spiked some monthly electric bills and spawned thousands of customer complaints.

At its July 30 meeting, the commission grudgingly allowed the Downtown-based electric utility's first request, which delays compliance with five mandates to improve its communication with competitive electric suppliers; study its procedures during an outage; and explore a method of pricing that encourages customers to use less power during peak hours.

Commissioners are now mulling Duquesne's second request, filed July 7, to indefinitely extend compliance with a landmark rule that allows customers to switch electric suppliers as quickly as three business days. During the 2014 winter, customers in variable rate plans wanted to change supply plans immediately after realizing their bills had spiked, but they were forced to wait until the following utility bill cycle.

Speaking to reporters last week, commissioner Robert Powelson called accelerated switching "a real game-changer" for a sluggish utilities industry because "in our world today ... nobody waits 30 to 40 days to buy something."

In March, Duquesne complied with the first phase of the rule allowing customers one off-cycle switch per month and has processed nearly 8,600 such switches per month, according to its filing. But Duquesne has pushed back against allowing more switches per month, claiming its biggest tech upgrade in decades has rendered its systems far too fragile to handle the PUC's rules. …

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