Thursday, February 20, 2014

Proceedings Initiated To Examine Variable Electric Rates By PUC

With more than 400 high bill informal complaints filed by consumers this year, the Public Utility Commission Thursday opened a proceeding to examine the rules, policies and consumer education measures regarding variable rate electric generation products.
“After receiving these high bill complaints, the Commission immediately undertook a review of the matter and developed recommendations for action,” said PUC Vice Chairman John F. Coleman Jr. and Commissioner James H. Cawley in a joint motion. “The rate consumers pay in the retail electric market is governed by the terms of their contract with their supplier… It is important for consumers on variable rates to carefully review the terms and conditions of their contracts to determine if they are at risk for large rate increases at any given time.”
The Commission voted 5-0 to examine areas of concern including compelling EGSs to notify customers of prices changes; requiring historical pricing information for EGSs offering variable rate products; revising disclosure statements to make them more user-friendly; and increasing the information available from EGSs to consumers about variable rate increases including that uncapped variable rates may be increased without limitation. The Commission is asking interested parties to respond to specific questions outlined in the motion.
“The Commission will continue to evaluate the additional actions that should be taken to ensure that consumers are receiving adequate and accurate information to make informed decisions when purchasing electric supply,” according to the motion.
The PUC also is continuing its ongoing efforts to empower customers to more quickly change generation suppliers when they are charged unacceptably high rates.
“A variety of regulatory requirements, technical issues and business practices can result in a switching process that lasts as long as forty days,” according to the motion. “Reducing this period will serve to mitigate adverse financial impacts from variable rate volatility.”
The motion also summarized actions the Commission has taken and has planned to educate consumers about actions they should take to cope with the variable rates – including multiple news releases, and consumer alerts on the PUC website and – urging them to contact their supplier, check their contracts, evaluate competitive offers, conserve energy, and sign up for budget billing, a payment arrangement or assistance programs.

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