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PPL customers have until Feb. 28 to comment on proposed $17M billing fiasco settlement

A PPL truck is parked at the Sheetz gas station in Hummelstown on April 1, 2020.

 Tim Lambert / WITF

A PPL truck is parked at the Sheetz gas station in Hummelstown on April 1, 2020.

Customers caught in the PPL Electric Utilities billing fiasco last year have until 4:30 p.m. Feb. 28 to share their opinions on a proposed $17 million settlement.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission is accepting comments electronically by opening and using a PUC eFiling account – free of charge – through the Commission’s website, Click on the “Filing & Resources” tab. Using the PUC eFiling system is encouraged to ensure that comments are filed in a timely manner.

Comments may also be submitted by mail, with overnight delivery recommended to ensure meeting the filing deadline, using the following address: Secretary, PA Public Utility Commission, Commonwealth Keystone Building, 400 North St. Harrisburg, PA 17120.

Comments should reference the PUC docket number for this case: M-2023-3038060.

Email or fax submissions are not acceptable.

The PUC will review all comments received before issuing a final decision on this case.

With approximately 272,000 customers, PPL is Lancaster County’s primary electricity provider.

Settlement proposal

The settlement was proposed by the PUC’s independent Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement and PPL in November. In the proposal, PPL would pay a $1 million civil penalty and absorb more than $16 million in related costs.

The proposed settlement also notes that PPL has already refunded approximately $1 million to customers statewide who received estimated bills and were overbilled due to the application of the incorrect rates in the bills that addressed the estimated billing periods.

As part of the settlement, PPL will not seek to recover any of these related costs in future rate cases or in any other manner.

PPL would also absorb more than $16 million in related costs related to rectifying its billing issues, including:

— Approximately $2.3 million in voluntarily waived late fees;

— Approximately $7.8 million of additional bad debt expense arising out of the voluntary service termination moratorium;

— Forgoing collection of approximately $1.7 million from customers who were underbilled;

— An additional approximately $3.7 million of unplanned costs in engaging external vendors;

— And approximately $700,000 of unbudgeted employee overtime expenses.

The PUC also notified the Pennsylvania Office of Consumer Advocate and Pennsylvania Office of Small Business Advocate for consideration and comment.

Investigation of PPL billing issues

The investigation came after complaints from customers in December and January about unusually high or low estimated bills, missing monthly bills, and the lack of adequate customer service support resulting in consumers being unable to reach PPL Call Center representatives to discuss their billing concerns.

The billing problems, according to the settlement, originated in December 2022. The inability to transfer actual meter data backed up normal customer billing operations and resulted in sending estimated December 2022 bills.

Later, according to the investigation, human error caused additional incorrect bills to be issued, while some customers received no bills, and issues with bill estimation resulted in wildly inaccurate bills.

More than 48,000 PPL accounts received no bills during one or more months between December 2022 and April 2023 billing periods, and during that same period more than 91,000 unique PPL accounts received no bills.

Of the more than 860,000 estimated bills issued between December 2022 and May 2023, the investigation revealed that 67.31% (261,104 customers) of the bills had an estimate 10% or more above the customers’ actual usage.

Of the overestimated bills, one-third indicated an estimate that varied from actual usage by more than 25%, according to the settlement filing. And nearly 48,000 customer bills were based on an estimate different from actual usage by more than 50%.

Further, more than 82,000 estimated bills were impacted by missing or inaccurate supply charges – resulting in a process where PPL canceled the initial estimated bills and rebilled accounts to correct errors – generating consumer confusion and creating a complicated tangle of bills that took months to unravel, the settlement said.

Finally, customers who attempted to contact PPL about billing issues were faced with extremely long wait times or were unable to reach the utility at all. Call center data from the period between January and April 2023 showed that 41% of calls to PPL were abandoned without customers being able to reach a representative.

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