A grandmother of four living in a two-bedroom mobile home outside Pittsburgh is in danger of losing her electricity because, on her disability payments, she cannot cover the cost of an $8,322.27 power bill being charged by a retail energy supplier, reported local television station Action News 4 (WTAE) on April 3. Indeed, she cannot cover the charge for February, alone, which was more than $700.
“”I don’t know what I’m gonna do. I have no clue,” Catherine Warren told reporter Marcie Cipriani through her tears.
Warren had been on a budget plan offered by American Power and Gas, a Seminole, Florida-based retailer. However, when she missed the payment on several monthly invoices, she was taken off that plan, pulled from low-income programs, and billed for the full balance.
“That is a lot of money,” said Warren “They charged me more than what my disability checks for.”
However, according to American Power, Warren knowingly signed off on a variable rate plan in 2013. The TV report confirms that a recording was made of Warren’s phone call to the American Power – and that on the recording, she seems not to be fully attentive.
When a computer voice asks Warren to say her email address, she replies “yes,” and the company continues with the enrollment process, where the customer even agreed to pay 3 cents extra per kilowatt hour (kWh) for renewable electricity, making Warren’s cost 15.9 cents/kWh.
By comparison on Pennsylvania’s competitive online electricity marketplace, the PA Power Switch operated by the Public Utility Commission (PUC), Warren’s local utility company. West Penn Power, would have charged her just 7 cents/kWh – and the same company charging her 16 cents/kWh would have charged a rate of just 6.7 cents/kWh on the website.
What’s more, according to Warren’s $700-plus February electricity bill, her mobile home used more than 4,400 kWh of power in February.
“In Pennsylvania, average electric usage is between 700 kWh and 800 kWh per month,” Nils Hagen-Frederiksen, press secretary for the PUC, told the reporter. He advised, “”Take the time; you have the ability to do research. Pennsylvania residents have been able to choose their electric for 20 years, by simply entering their ZIP codes . In Warren’s case, they chose her, calling her home, and [soliciting] service. It is legal, but sometimes confusing.”
Now, Warren’s local company, West Penn, is stepping up to help her get back on track and pay her bills. And, although she cancelled her account with American Power, they also are pitching in to correct the situation.
Hagen-Fredericksen said Warren’s circumstances are not unusual, if consumers aren’t paying attention. “The PUC doesn’t regulate the price for supply that’s a consumer product just like any other consumer product,” he noted.