Squabble causes rise in rates

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - Most of the 119,000 customers who buy electricity from Dominion Peoples Plus instead of Duquesne Light are paying higher bills these days – an estimated $8 or more a month – because of Duquesne's ongoing squabble with the region's power grid operator.

Until this summer, Dominion's rates per kilowatt hour had been lower than Duquesne Light's for two years, said Dan Donovan, spokesman for the North Side-based division of Dominion Resources Inc.

Dominion Peoples Plus is a competitive power supplier that under the state's deregulation law can undercut Duquesne Light's price and deliver power to customers via the utility's transmission lines.

Duquesne Light wants to drop out of PJM Interconnection LLC, which runs the electric grid serving 13 states. Valley Forge-based PJM adopted a new auction-based pricing method last year that raised the local utility's costs, and Duquesne Light wants to switch to the Midwest ISO, another grid operator based in Carmel, Ind.

The catch for Dominion is that it must buy power from the same electricity market as Duquesne Light to serve customers in Duquesne Light's territory, mainly Allegheny and Beaver counties. And uncertainty this spring and summer over whether Duquesne Light would stay with PJM or go to Midwest hurt its ability to lock in a lower price for several months ahead.

Dominion isn't taking new customers right now in Duquesne Light territory. Since July, most customers have paid a rate that can change monthly and now – because of summer price spikes – is 9.9 cents per kilowatt hour. The exceptions are some customers with ongoing, locked-in contract prices, Donovan said.

Duquesne Light's price, by comparison, is 8.53 cents. A typical residential customer using 600 kilowatt hours a month would pay $8.22 more, under Dominion's current 9.9-cent rate.

"We're confident we can lower this in September," Donovan said, adding customers so far aren't fleeing back to Duquesne Light. "Most of our customers are long term. The majority have been with us for five to seven years, and they know they've saved money in the long run with us."

Dominion, in fact, is the only Duquesne Light competitor that has offered cheaper rates. Community Energy sells power in the region, but it adds a charge on top of the utility's rates for wind power.

Meanwhile, Duquesne Light, still is awaiting the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's decision on whether it will have to pay PJM for future generation capacity, if it leaves for Midwest. The utility has said this could cost its customers more than $100 million a year over three years.

Duquesne Light spokesman Joe Vallarian said the utility has postponed joining Midwest until the organization creates an ancillary service market, a system that will balance the flow of electricity through its grid. Midwest serves 15 states including Ohio, plus Manitoba, Canada.


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