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Hearing set on PPL early payment plan

PUC will hear public comment April 2 in Bethlehem on utility’s plan for payments toward future rate hikes.

PPL customers still can comment to state officials about the utility’s plan to accept early payments toward future rate increases.

The state Public Utility Commission had closed the record on PPL Electric Utilities Corp.’s so-called “rate stabilization plan,” but at state Sen. Lisa Boscola’s request, the PUC has scheduled a public hearing on the plan for April 2 in Bethlehem.

PPL’s is the first such plan proposed by a utility in the state to blunt the effects of price spikes expected in excess of 25 percent when regulated rate caps expire in 2010. If approved, PPL customers could volunteer to have an extra charge added to their monthly bills in 2009. That money would go into an interest-earning account for each customer and then be doled out throughout 2010 to cover the expected rate increases. In theory, customers on the plan would experience several smaller increases through 2012 rather than the drastic single increase on Jan. 1, 2010.

Potentially open to more than 1 million consumers, the plan could have widespread effects. Combined with a flurry of political posturing, legislative proposals and media coverage on deregulation, the PUC announced it believes more public testimony could aid its decision to approve the plan, which could come as early as the PUC’s meeting on April 9.

The plan has been criticized as little more than anesthetic when a cure is needed.

“If PPL wants to really help their customers, they should be doing more to keep their rates down, instead of trying to convince people that it’s a good thing for them to pay higher electric bills both sooner and later,” Boscola, D-Bethlehem Township, said in a news release.

In announcing the plan, PPL argued the plan makes the best of an undesirable, but necessary, situation.

“Higher prices after a decade under capped rates for generation charges will not be easy for customers, so we are working to get them the lowest prices and offer choices to help manage electric bills,” David G. DeCampli, president of PPL Electric Utilities, said in a news release.

Of course, deregulation, by definition, means customers could drop PPL completely and shop around in a competitive market for their electricity needs.

However, the gripe in other deregulated states and increasingly in Pennsylvania is that competitive markets don’t materialize because the industry isn’t conducive for upstart competitors.

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