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PPL to pay into assistance fund, not collect owed bills in proposed settlement

  • Rachel McDevitt
A utility meter is seen in a file photo. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

A utility meter is seen in a file photo. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

This story has been updated to include a comment from PPL. 

PPL Electric Utilities is still not done paying for billing errors from last year.

The company said a technical problem in its metering system meant it had to estimate bills starting in December 2022. It estimated more than 860,000 bills between December 2022 and May 2023.

By January last year, many PPL customers were outraged by abnormally high bills.

In a review of 387,000 bills from January 2023, PPL found 67% differed from the customers’ actual electricity use by 10% or more. More than 47,000 bills had a difference of more than 50%.

Tens of thousands more customers had incorrect bills or no bill at all.

The incident sparked an investigation by the Public Utility Commission. The PUC proposed a settlement in January that would have included a $1 million fine.

During the following public comment period, the Coalition for Affordable Utility Services and Energy Efficiency in Pennsylvania (CAUSE-PA) said the errors are serious, and likely resulted in a cascade of financial consequences for PPL customers, with low- and moderate-income families getting hit the hardest. CAUSE-PA suggested modifying the proposal to explicitly aid PPL’s low income customers.

In April, the PUC proposed an enhanced settlement for PPL to pay $1 million into a hardship fund in lieu of a fine. The fund goes to grants to help struggling customers with bills. People can apply though the PPL website.

The company has already issued about $1 million in refunds.

PPL would not recover any costs of the billing malfunction from ratepayers. PPL spent about $16 million responding to billing issues. The company is owed $1.7 million from customers who were underbilled, but it would not seek repayment under the agreement.

Under the tentative agreement, PPL would need to study the problem’s cause and determine whether the company’s six-month service shut-off moratorium was enough time to help affected customers. It would also need to reimburse anyone who is still due a refund.

Elizabeth Marx, who represents CAUSE-PA through the Pennsylvania Utility Law Project, said information is so far limited, so it’s hard to say whether the approved relief will fully offset the financial harm.

“We are hopeful that the root cause analysis and other ongoing reporting requirements included in the approved settlement will help to shed light on the issues that occurred to ensure they never happen again,” said Marx.

On April 25, the PUC voted 3-2 to approve a motion for the enhanced settlement. Once the order is final, both parties will have 20 days to withdraw. If one party withdraws, the case would be returned to the PUC’s independent Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement.

PPL spokesperson Dana Burns said the company fixed the metering issue and customers are now getting accurate bills.

Burns said PPL intends to work on the commitments in the order once it is fully approved.

“In the meantime, we will continue to build upon the significant work we already have done to support our customers, continuously improve our service and prevent a billing issue like this from occurring again,” Burns said.

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