Smart Talk

Smart Talk is a daily, live, interactive program featuring conversations with newsmakers and experts in a variety of fields and exploring a wide range of issues and ideas, including the economy, politics, health care, education, culture, and the environment.  Smart Talk airs live every week day at 9 a.m. on WITF’s 89.5 and 93.3.

Listen to Smart Talk live online from 9-10 a.m. weekdays and at 7 p.m. (Repeat of 9 a.m. program)

Host: Scott LaMar

Smart Talk: Auctioning off electric customers?; 10 years of Facebook

Written by Scott LaMar, Smart Talk Host/Executive Producer | Feb 5, 2014 2:19 PM

What to look for on Smart Talk Thursday, February 6, 2014:

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Auctioning Off Electric Customers?

More than three and a half million Pennsylvania electric customers haven't chosen a power provider.  As a result, the utilities that supply their electricity depends on where they live.  A few years ago before customers had the option to select a provider, geography determined which utility provided their power. 

Those three and a half million customers who stayed with their original provider did so by default under the regulations of electric choice in Pennsylvania.

As part of a proposal in the state senate, electric providers would be able to bid on default customers to supply their electricity.

Opponents of the idea say it takes choice away from electric customers, especially residential customers, and may cost them more money in the long run.

One of the people who opposes the auctioning of electric customers is former Pennsylvania Consumer Advocate Irwin Sonny Popowsky, who will appear on Thursday's Smart Talk.

For tips on how to shop for electricity visit PA Power Switch.

10 Years of Facebook

Also, the social media site Facebook turned 10 years old this week.

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With 1.2 billion users worldwide, Facebook has changed how people communicate.

We'll discuss the influence of Facebook with Charles Palmer, Exec. Dir. Center for Advanced Entertainment & Learning Technologies/Assoc. Prof. of Multimedia, Harrisburg University of Science and Technology.

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Charles Palmer, Exec. Dir. Center for Advanced Entertainment & Learning Technologies/Assoc. Prof. of Multimedia, Harrisburg University of Science and Technology

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  • Steve Fehr img 2014-02-06 09:15

    Smart Talk. I made my "choice." My choice was to make no choice and go default with PP&L. I am not a slave to the GOP - don't allow them to auction me off to the highest bidder. I don't trust the highest bidder; I trust PP&L. I made my choice.
    Stephen S. Fehr

  • ToddO img 2014-02-06 09:26

    When electricity providers originally started competing for customers, I chose to switch. Their price was low at first, but after the introductory period, it became noticeably higher than the PP&L price, so I chose to switch back. I've stayed there ever since. I frequent a web site that tracks retail prices (Amazon, Best Buy, etc.) over time, and wonder if PA electricity customers would benefit from something like this, vs. the special offers and "spot checks" found on the state web site? I also wonder if my switch back to PP&L would register as a choice under the bill you're discussing?

  • Linda Simmerer Eyer img 2014-02-06 09:27

    I understand that electricity follows the path of least resistance, so my electric in Hummelstown comes from the nearest generating plant, TMI. How can I be purchasing from another generating plant?

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-02-06 09:37

    A listener emails:

    Please name the politicians behind this.
    Also not making choice to choose a different electricity carrier is still a choice, to stay with your utility.
    Unless they're (the big money) are banking on apathy and ill-informed.
    Furthermore,bad timing on this subject while many of us are still with out electricity.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-02-06 09:40

    Heather emails:

    I stuck with my default (PPL) simply because I’m extremely intimidated by all the choices. Almost too many options. Pricing isn’t really all that different and fluctuates constantly.

    There are also some companies that are pyramid schemes. Others are extremely aggressive. Had someone come to my front door and ask me for my PPL account #. They were from a different utility company and said that we were required to switch because of a new PA law. They completely twisted the PA Power Choice message and made it sound like we needed to sign up with them on the spot.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-02-06 09:40

    Michelle emails:

    Sonny and Scott,

    I have had some experience with using the electricity choice program. While the PUC does a good job of showing CURRENT prices, they could do consumers an even better favor by showing the historical comparisons between companies.

    I chose one company that initially charged me a low rate, but during the summer - my rate nearly tripled far beyond what others were currently charging. I complained, got a refund, and quickly cancelled that contract. What suppliers have charged in the past during peak usage times may help consumers weed out those that will rip them off.

    It also seems to me that the PUC allows the companies that own the transmission lines to increase their rates. I am currently paying less for electricity SUPPLY than I was before the deregulation was lifted in 2010, however, overall I'm paying about $30 more a month than I was prior to the deregulation.

    Your thoughts?

  • Steve Fehr img 2014-02-06 10:03

    Smart Talk - Auctioning Off Utility Customers. I am also aggravated by marketers calling me despite being on a do not call list. This is very intrusive and further turns me off. I now automatically toss the junk mail, too. How much money is wasted on marketing? Why not ban intrusive marketing or else apply those sums to lower "default choicers" rates? Please leave me alone! Preserve the default choice.
    Steve Fehr

  • mlc img 2014-02-11 08:57

    I was listening to your program on the car radio and wanted to respond to what seemed like your surprise as to why so many customers are still with their default supplier and have not switched.

    When customer choice became available in the 90’s, I was one of the first to shop and switch. I will tell you why I lost interest in the program.

    First, companies come and go. You spend time, do your research, choose a company, then they disappear. Many of the companies on the list seem very “fly by night.” The default supplier does not.

    Some companies offer you a great introductory rate, then it goes up after a certain period. You may or may not be locked into a contract period in which you cannot switch out of that higher rate. And who wants to spend time constantly monitoring electric rates? We trust our default supplier and correct me if I’m wrong, but the default supplier is not allowed to make a profit on the electricity they provide.

    Also, there is more than just price to my choice. It was extremely difficult for me to discover what sources many companies use for their electricity generation. As someone who cares about the environment, this was very important in my choice of electric company. Do they generate the electricity they send to the grid with mostly coal, or do they use renewables like solar and wind? Some companies when asked actually refused to provide this information. If I cannot find this information, or find a company that will stick around, I will just go with the default. I know that there are regulations in place requiring them to generate electricity from a certain percentage of renewables.

    Frankly, the whole process can be overwhelming and difficult to understand. After the company I had switched to disappeared without any word, I stayed with our default supplier for several years. I have some experience understanding the energy market and what the choice program is about, but the average consumer does not. Is it any wonder that most people don’t bother to switch? It seems much easier for the average consumer to just stay with what they know – the savings is not that much different, most people probably do not care how their energy is produced, there are too many confusing choices, and their default supplier has always been reliable. There are no contracts and the price is the price.

    I can't imagine any electric customers would agree to having their electricity contracts auctioned off. I wouldn't, regardless of whether I have chosen a different electric company.

    Honestly, what I would be much more interested in being able to shop for is a cable provider!!