Electric customers should shop before rate hike

May 30, 2014

There’s no dancing around this version of The Electric Slide.

“Go shopping,” said Todd Meyers, spokesman for West Penn Power, which delivers electricity to all residential customers in Washington and Greene counties.

“Go to papowerswitch.com. If you’re a West Penn customer, click on West Penn and you’ll see the suppliers and what they’re offering. This is a good place to shop.”

Electricity costs will slide up for many residential customers across Pennsylvania Sunday, specifically those who get that energy source from the distribution company – the one to whom you pay your bill. And it will be a formidable increase, though likely not the shocking development many fear.

But with air conditioning season nigh, customers have options to limit the literal and financial heat they will get from summer and increased utility usage.

Instead of receiving electricity directly from from their billing company, which will be more expensive, they can select a firm that supplies electricity to their distributor. Even if they already have a supplier, they can switch to another if they can come up with a better deal.

Suppliers’ rates, per kilowatt hour, and terms, variable or fixed for a certain period, are on papowerswitch.com – established by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

Go shopping, indeed.

It is a process regulated by the PUC. But regardless of choice, no electricity distributor will leave a paying customer in the cold – or extreme heat, depending on season.

“While we encourage you to shop, if you don’t, you’re not left out. We deliver no matter who you buy from,” said Brian Knavish, spokesman for Duquesne Light, a Pittsburgh-based distributor serving Allegheny and Beaver counties.

“We recommend finding the best deal possible,” Knavish said. “We recommend shopping and reading the fine print. Some suppliers offer variable rates, which may be lower now but may go up. We had a lot of customers complain because when it was cold, and they had a variable rate, their costs went up.”

“For this decision, it’s very important to understand terms and conditions,” said Meyers of West Penn Power, which has 105,000 residential customers in Washington County and 18,000 in Greene. It is a subsidiary of Akron, Ohio-based FirstEnergy Corp.

“You have to ask whether it is a variable or fixed term. How long will that be in effect? You have to ask questions, like anything else.”

He estimated that 70 percent of West Penn’s residential customers get their electricity by “default” from West Penn – meaning they have not selected a supplier. Knavish said 57 percent of Duquesne Light customers receive default service.

Distribution companies have to acquire this energy on the open market and pass the costs to consumers.

“If you don’t want to shop or haven’t heard about it,” Meyers said, “we still have to get electricity to you. So on your behalf, we go out and procure electricity and bill you for that.”

He said West Penn’s rate on Sunday will rise from 4.96 cents per killowatt hour to 7.51 cents, a 51 percent increase. But, Meyers added, that does not mean the monthly bill will go up 51 percent.

“About 60 percent of the bill is based on the commodity of electricity,” he explained, adding that the 51 percent hike will be on the electricity used.

The amount of energy needed to stave off the long, miserable winter of 2013-14 was a factor in the current elevated electricity prices.

“Energy prices have gone up,” Knavish said. “There are other factors, but weather definitely was one.”

Sunday is not a deadline for switching to a supplier. A consumer can do so any time, but would have to pay the higher rate for electricity used from June 1 until the transition is made.

A changeover takes an estimated three to 40 days, depending on circumstances.

That website, again, is papowerswitch.com. So shop until the electricity price drops.

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won seven individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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