Preparing Consumers for Rising Power Prices
Leonard, Kim, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Monthly electric bills may rise by a few cents soon, so that utilities can teach customers how to trim their power costs.
Sound contradictory? Here's the gist: The state Public Utility Commission last year told electric distribution companies to come up with education plans to help consumers save on electricity, as the capped rates imposed under the state's 1996 deregulation law continue to expire.
Utilities serving Western Pennsylvania say they will spend $340,000 to $776,000 this year on programs ranging from savings tips on bill inserts and Web sites to elementary school lectures and displays at home shows.
Three of the plans -- including Greensburg-based Allegheny Power's -- have tentative PUC approval, including an OK to surcharge customers for the costs. After a comment period ends on June 6, the PUC can make the orders final or put the plans through a hearing process.
Duquesne Light, Penn Power and three other utilities, meanwhile, are awaiting tentative approvals of their plans, which the PUC returned with questions, spokeswoman Denise DiNunzio said Wednesday.
David Hughes of Squirrel Hill-based Citizen Power said the PUC's efforts fall short. "It is kind of ironic that you're going to be doing things to reduce customers' costs, and charging them a fee," he said.
Electric bills in some parts of Pennsylvania have soared in recent times, as the artificially low rates under deregulation were replaced with new ones that reflect market-rate prices.
State Consumer Advocate Sonny Popowsky sees value in the education plans, especially for customers of companies like Allegheny Power who, for decades, have enjoyed the lowest prices going.
Allegheny Power's cap expires at the end of 2010. …