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Pa. customers prepare to power shop

October 01, 1997

By LISA GRAYBEAL

Staff Writer, Chambersburg

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Nearly 40,000 Allegheny Power customers in Franklin County will be able to shop around for their electricity producers, a move utility officials say could cut their electric bills by as much as 10 percent.

Some of the 40,000 may be selected out of 665,000 total customers in Pennsylvania for a one-year pilot program, starting Nov. 1. Under the program, they will be able to choose who produces their power, said Scott Shields, Allegheny Power's corporate communications team leader.

"It's like shopping for anything," Shields said. He compared it to the telephone industry, which provides customers with local calling services but allows them to choose long-distance providers.

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Allegheny Power mailed a letter describing the pilot program, or Customer Choice Program, along with a participation response card to its residential, commercial and industrial customers in Pennsylvania.

The deadline to sign up for the program is Friday, but Shields said the company has already received an overwhelming response.

If more than 5 percent sign up, the company will hold a lottery to fill the available slots, he said.

Allegheny Power and other companies are required to offer a pilot program as part of the Electricity Generation Customer Choice and Competition Act signed into law last December, Shields said.

The law deregulated the generation part of the electric power industry in the state, allowing customers to make choices, he said.

It means a Pennsylvania customer could retain an electricity generating company in California to produce his or her power, said John Frazier, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

The state commission has so far approved licenses for 30 companies all over the country that are selling electricity, he said.

The local utility, such as Allegheny Power, will continue to transmit and distribute the electricity over the power lines, he said. Those services are still regulated.

The local company also will provide customer services including meter reading, billing and power line repairs, Shields said. Allegheny Power will offer backup power to customers if their provider runs into any trouble.

Customers will still call their local utility to report power outages.

The prospect of lower rates is the main reason the state deregulated the power industry, Frazier said. By shopping around to get the best deal on electric production, a customer could save up to 10 percent, he said.

That means a customer whose electric bill averages $100 each month may see the amount owed drop to $90.

"It's sort of a national movement. A number of states like Pennsylvania are deregulating the power industry and a number of states have something like it in the works," Frazier said.

According to the law, Pennsylvania's investor-owned utilities must offer statewide customer choice to everyone by the year 2001. Customer choice must be offered to one-third of the state's consumers in 1999, the next third in the year 2000, and the last third in the year 2001.

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