Electricity rate reform needed
Not just the harsh winter past, but the stealth exponential increases in electricity rates that some companies have imposed on consumers, have millions of Pennsylvanians longing for summer. The long hours of daylight and warmer temperatures not only improve dispositions, but diminish utility bills.
Memorial Day traditionally marks the beginning of summer, even if the calendar doesn't agree. It also should mark the beginning of an aggressive effort by legislators to end the electricity price-gouging that so many consumers endured this winter.
State Rep. Robert Godshall, a Montgomery County Republican, has introduced a bill containing many reforms to help consumers navigate the world of deregulated electricity sales, including a 30 percent cap on the amount by which companies could raise rates in any given month. Yes, a 30 percent monthly cap is a reform.
The bill also includes several other valuable reforms. It would require clearer language in contracts and disclosure statements, so that consumers would have a better idea what they are getting into with a variable-rate contract. It would stop companies from dumping fixed-rate customers into the variable market when their contracts expire. It would speed up switch times to new suppliers to five days, instead of 30 or more. And it would preclude suppliers from charging termination fees for customers who ant to end variable-rate contracts.
Some suppliers have said they favor contract reform but the industry as a whole has objected to capping the monthly rate increase at 30 percent. And the state Public Utility Commission, which has been too much the lap dog for the industry on the variable-rate issue, has indicated that it will oppose the cap as well, claiming that the other reforms in the bill would render it unnecessary.
Unlike most Pennsylvanians enjoying the three-day Memorial Day weekend, lawmakers have given themselves a much longer break. When they return to Harrisburg June 2, they are expected to take up a contentious budget debate, amid a $1 billion deficit, that likely is last to at least the end of the fiscal year,June 30.
They should make sure that the summer does not pass without electricity rate reforms, including a cap on variable-rate increases.