Pennsylvania Electric Choice: What A Broken Mess It Is!

May 24, 2011


I am unable to believe the legislature in Pennsylvania couldn’t foresee that deregulation of the electric companies would create a huge mess…even worse than the AT&T divestiture debacle in the 80’s where nobody benefitted for a very long time, if ever.  

It astonishes me that the PUC cannot wrap their arms around the fact that the electric choice process is a broken process, ultimately costing more money, not less, and fix the thing!

Do they not see that the administrative costs incurred by the power companies in administering the switches people make are going to drive the costs unnecessarily higher?   Do they not see that the length of time to make a switch is ridiculously long and therefore the consumer really does not benefit on either end of the switch?  Let me illustrate.

When electric choice became available, the Gateway Electric rate was lower than the PPL fixed rate.  We switched to Gateway.  It took three months to switch due to billing cycles and processing time.  On the back end, to switch back to PPL, it took one billing cycle.   Meanwhile, our one year contract with Gateway did not really last one year…ie one year from the time we became their customer…nope. It was really nine months.  It stopped being a contracted rate for the one billing cycle it took to switch back to PPL and we paid more money than we contracted for, or the PPL rate we now signed up for…for an entire billing cycle. Or maybe it was two.   

But switch back we did…to the PPL Winter TOU (Time of Use) Rate which was a bargain.  Recently PPL announced their new rates for the summer.  The magic date was May 20 when the new rates were available.  The new time of use rates and peak hours did not lend themselves to staying on the TOU rate for the summer. There were clearly no economies to be realized, and you didn’t need to be a Wharton School grad to figure out 12 cents an hour on peak in the five hottest hours of the summer months and 10 cents an hour off peak was more expensive than 8.77 cents an hour on the fixed rate all day and all night. 

So. The second the rates were published on Friday, I went online, used the PPL TOU revocation/signup form and signed up to go back to the fixed rate.  Today I went online and noted that my rate is still TOU.  June 1 those rates change so I wanted any mistakes corrected.  I called the good folks at PPL. 

Darned if I didn’t learn that I would be TOU until June 20.  Why?  That’s when my new billing cycle begins.  WHAAAAAT????  Yes. My billing cycle ended on May 18.  My next billing cycle ends June 19.  I elected to change to flat rate on May 20.  I objected.  But your rates weren’t published on May 18!!!  Well, that’s the way it works I was told.  I’d need to watch my usage through the month of June.  If I wasn’t satisfied she would send me a form to complain to the PUC.  I said, “Please do so”!  And file a complaint form I will!

Now I ask you.  What is so difficult that PPL cannot have its developers customize their billing program to make modifications to rate plans in the middle of the billing cycle???  If they need a business systems analyst to do the design and flow charts I would be more than happy to volunteer to do so!  It isn’t all that complex, MIT grad or not!  Certainly they have had enough lead time to be more customer responsive and give their customers a little relief from their broken process and their characteristically slow to change conservatism!  C’MON PPL!  You can surely do better than this!!!  You need to be more agile.  This is the year 2011 and you’re not the only game in town!  Oh.  That’s right.  For purposes of my account, billing and generation charges, you ARE the only game in town.  So that means your customers are STILL a captive audience, held hostage to your slow and inflexible business processes.  Sigh.

PUC…are you for real???  Are any of you actually customers of the electric choice program?  Have you experienced our pain? Can you really believe the administrative, mailing, advertising, maintenance costs incurred by these utility companies in order to support Electric Choice is NOT driving up the cost of electricity unnecessarily?  If so, you guys must also believe in the tooth fairy.  Oh legislators?  Can you possibly intervene??

Whaddya say you take a look at this reality and fix this for real this time???

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