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By Jim Donovan

By Jim Donovan

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — They were looking to save money on utilities, but instead their electric bills went through the roof. 3 On Your Side Consumer Reporter Jim Donovan was the first to shed light on electricity price spikes that took consumers by surprise this winter and now tells about changes finalized today that will help consumers avoid shocking bills in the future.

In February and March more than 14,000 consumers contacted the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) with concerns about electricity supply prices after their bills doubled, and even tripled. Now the PUC is taking action.

Jamie Davidson was shocked to see his mother’s electric bill jump more than $500 in a month. He says, “It was so high compared to what she previously had been charged.” The rate Jenette and Adam Johnson were billed at nearly tripled too. Jenette says, “I was hoping a mistake had been made.”

They were among thousands of Pennsylvania residents who were getting their electricity through third party suppliers and who had unknowingly agreed to being billed at a variable rate which could spike at any time. Unable to switch companies until their billing cycle was over, sometimes they were trapped at sky high rates for an additional 16 to 40 days.

Today the PUC approved changes that will allow customers to switch suppliers within three business days and requires companies to provide additional pricing disclosures. In a video statement provided to CBS 3, PUC Chairman Robert Powelson said, “This is about helping consumers that are actively out there in the market shopping, giving them greater portability, greater notification of the products they’re being served by suppliers.”

The new regulations still have to be approved by the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office and other regulatory agencies, but they should go into effect by next winter.

New Jersey customers were hit with bills spikes too, no word yet on if the state plans on taking any action.

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