Pennsylvania's top utility regulator blasts FirstEnergy's polar vortex fee
- FirstEnergy Solutions (FES) is taking heat from Pennsylvania’s top utility regulator for imposing a one-time fee, from $5 to $15, on fixed-rate residential customers to recoup the costs of January’s polar vortex price spikes. FES is charging Illinois customers a similar fee, and Ohio regulators are investigating imposition of the charge on customers in that state.
- Public Utility Commission (PUC) Chairman Robert Powelson is not only Pennsylvania’s chief regulator, he’s also an FES fixed-rate customer, and he isn’t happy. “I think there’s a stench associated with” the company’s plan, he said at a state Senate committee hearing,
- In November, the PUC tightened its rules to prohibit fees from being added to fixed rates. FES spokeswoman Diane Francis said newer customers would be asked to accept the surcharge. If they do not, FES will terminate them as customers and return them to utility default service.
- The surcharge is attributable to the extraordinarily high prices the PJM Interconnection had to charge for reserve power during the Arctic blast that struck the region, straining power supplies. Some industrial customers and regulators question whether this cost is among the limited kinds of add-ons that FES’ fixed-price contracts allow to be passed on to customers.
Variable-rate customers sign up for the bad and the good, but fixed rates are fixed rates. That’s Powelson’s position, and as a strong proponent of competitive retail markets, he’s a powerful figure to speak out against FES’ move. The fee can’t help but dent public enthusiasm for leaving regulated utility service. It will certainly spur extra attention to contracts’ fine print.
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