In 2011, PPL Electric Utilities offered customers with smart-meter technology in their homes or businesses a way to cash in with cheaper electricity rates if they used power at off-peak times.
It didn't go so well. Customers jumped in and out as rates fluctuated, causing all kinds for problems for the utility. Eventually, the time-of-use rates were frozen as PPL tried to come up with a better way to offer the program, which is required by state law.
"This program proved unworkable and caused a number of serious problems," the state Public Utility Commission wrote in an opinion piece approving a new plan that shifts the job of providing time-of-use rates to the power suppliers competing for PPL-service-area customers.
"This plan was developed to offer customers greater options and support shopping in our service territory," PPL spokesman Bryan Hay said.
The new program is expected to launch within 90 days.
Electricity suppliers will come up with their own time-of-use plans, subject to certain restrictions, that will be offered alongside traditional plans in the competitive electricity marketplace. PPL will not offer its own time-of-use plan to customers who decide to stick with PPL as their power supplier.
PPL's existing plan will be discontinued. Customers in that plan will be offered a chance to shop for a supplier offering time-of-use rates. If they don't do that, they will be placed in PPL's standard flat-rate program.
There are 1,250 residential customers in PPL's time-of-use plan, Hay said, in addition to 76 businesses.
Participants in the program attempt to manage their power usage by scheduling activities such as running the dishwasher, watching television and using the clothes washer and dryer at off-peak times, typically before noon and after 7 p.m.
The launch of the time-of-use rate in 2010 coincided with the lifting of PPL default service rate caps and the start of electricity shopping in PPL's service area. A year later, both the peak and off-peak rates in its time-of-use program fell beneath the standard flat rate being offered by PPL to regular customers.
That prompted thousands of customers to call PPL to switch to the time-of-use program. PPL default power customers could switch right away, but those who had gone with competing suppliers were told that could wait two months because of state guidelines aimed at preventing unauthorized electricity supplier switches and the limits of PPL's own computer system.
After some outcry, PPL was forced to override its computer system to make the switches within 16 days.