I’ll Purchase My Own Electricity, Thank You

Although I feel sorry for the thousands of Pennsylvania households who recently complained to the Public Utility Commission about extremely high electricity prices this winter, I cannot say I am too surprised.

Under electricity deregulation, customers have been freed to select generators of electricity from companies other than the ones contracted through their default utility provider, in my case PECO. As soon as the free market option went into effect, I was deluged with obnoxious telemarketing calls from all sorts of new suppliers who wanted to offer me a really great deal. Of course, the devil is in the details, and many of these offers featured low “teaser” rates that would switch into variable rates at some point (the “default” rate from utilities such as PECO is characterized by longer fixed term pricing). For many customers of new suppliers, the variable rates went into effect, power demand was high this winter, and the consumer paid through the nose. The PUC, in response to the complaints, rushed to publish regulations that would make the alternative suppliers detail their rates in plain English, and allow customers to switch suppliers more quickly.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a free market guy at heart. If people gamble on variable rates, that is their business. I chose to remain with the default supply through PECO, and am satisfied with my choice.

But amidst all of this upheaval comes State Senator Bob Mensch, and Senate Bill 1121. This bill calls for those us who stayed with the default supplier (and there are 3.6 million Pennsylvania households in this number) to be randomly assigned to one of these alternative electricity providers. These new providers (who support Mensch’s bill, of course) would pay a bounty of $100 per household to the State, for each of the 3.6 million of us who are so assigned. That’s a cool $360 million to Pennsylvania, an infusion of cash that would be hard for the Harrisburg crowd to resist.

But resist I will! I will choose what I wish to purchase — cars, toasters….and electricity. Who is Bob Mensch to try to take that choice away from me? Hasn’t government intruded enough into our lives?

If there is a silver lining to the recent rate brouhaha, it is that the controversy has put a hold on Bill 1121, which Sen. Mensch now admits needs to be re-thought.

I’ll suggest the following re-think: kill it. If anything like this advances in Harrisburg, I will cast a sharp eye on the votes cast by my own state representative and senator. For me, it boils down to freedom of choice. And my freedom of choice is worth more than a grubby $100 bounty to Harrisburg.