PPL scrambles to offset PR nightmare
More than a quarter-century ago, we Pennsylvanians were told that the deregulation of the power industry would mean fierce competition among prospective providers. The bottom line is that we would pay less for our electric power.
Tell that to many PPL customers who went nuts when they saw their most recent bills. Something was obviously out of whack.
Well, yes and no.
It was a perfect storm of factors that caught many customers unaware of what was going on, and, until recently, PPL was eerily silent about the cause of these wildly spiking bills. It came down to a screw-up in estimated bills and much higher electricity charges.
Adding to the frustration was the inability of customers to get through to PPL service representatives in a timely manner to find out what the problem was. I attempted to call two weeks ago and was told my wait time was 51 minutes. Guess what? I didn’t wait around for nearly an hour. I am guessing that few of you did either.
The issue has caught the attention of the state Public Utility Commission, which said its independent Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement has begun an inquiry into the circumstances of the problem, including the accuracy and integrity of PPL’s billing practices.
The PUC said PPL customers who feel the company has not addressed their issue adequately or has not responded appropriately should contact the commission’s Bureau of Consumer Services at 1-800-692-7380.
It was no secret that electric rates were going up - a lot. PPL, which provides a default rate for customers who choose not to search other companies’ rates, tacked on another 18% rate increase in December 2022. This was on top of a 25% hike in December of 2021 and a 38% increase in June of 2022. The next rate decision will be coming this June.
PPL serves 1.4 million customers in 29 counties in Pennsylvania, including the five in the Times News area - Carbon, Schuylkill, Monroe, Northampton and Lehigh.
Subscribers were in the dark for weeks. Finally, yesterday, PPL President Steph Raymond issued an apology and explanation. Acknowledging that customers have a right to expect excellent service from their electric utility, Raymond said, that delivering reliable electricity must be matched by excellent customer service. “In recent weeks, we’ve fallen short of this standard in both our billing and responsiveness to customers,” she admitted.
Raymond said the company has resolved the “technical issue” that resulted in a significant number of bills being sent between Dec. 20 and Jan. 9 that were based on estimated usage. Those who were adversely impacted have either received a corrected bill with actual usage or an adjustment on the next monthly bill “to ensure you only pay for the electricity you used,” she said.
The company, however, insisted that subscribers pay the amount of the much higher bill indicated even if it was in error, then adjustments will be made in subsequent bills. This was an incredibly heartless decision, especially for those who are barely able to afford an accurate original bill.
Because of some of the other steps that PPL is taking, it is doubtful that late payments or no payments of the bogus bills will come back to haunt subscribers, because Raymond said the company will not shut off power to residential and small-business customers for non-payment through March 31. Frankly, I believe that given PPL’s regrettable errors, it should extend this date until at least June 30.
PPL will also waive late fees through Feb. 28. Any fees already charged in January will be credited to a customer’s account. Raymond pointed out that the company offers payment plans and assistance for those struggling to pay their bills. You can get details at 1-800-DIAL-PPL. The company has also promised to add more customer service representatives to reduce wait times.
Raymond said while estimated billing and higher prices are unrelated, together they have resulted in many more customer calls, which meant long wait times. “If you received an estimated bill or have had difficulty reaching our call center, I apologize,” Raymond said in her statement. “Simply put, you deserve better, and we are committed to regaining your trust.”
She recommended that you might save money by comparing utility prices by going to PaPowerSwitch.com.
By Bruce Frassinellifirstname.lastname@example.org
(Editor’s note: Bruce Frassinelli is a shareholder of PPL Corp.)