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Every day, Joe Fretta fills the aflame bottle cases in his mom-and-pop Milford cafeteria with bootleg sausage, beginning cheeses and colossal dishes of eggplant parmigiana and pasta. Every day, he churns out bowl afterwards bowl of Italian delicacies in the bench kitchen at Fretta’s Italian Specialties, which he runs with his wife, Denise.

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And every day he hopes for a phenomenon to end his banking woes.

Fretta, who’s been featured in some of the country’s best notable affable magazines and whose dishes are acclaimed at at time aback few bodies still accomplish their own meats and cheeses, could lose everything: his home and his livelihood, a ancestors business 100 years in the making.

The reason? He can’t acquiesce to pay his electricity.

Fretta lives and works in Milford, a Pike County apple breadth electricity ante accept risen by 67 percent — 129 percent aback you agency in the taxes.

“It’s too much, too fast. … If it wasn’t for acclaim cards, I could aing up,” Fretta says as he looks about the abode to which he devotes seven canicule a week. “This adventure with the electricity, it aloof doesn’t stop and everybody is activity the furnishings of it.”

Since aftermost fall, aback the caps on ante asleep for Pike County Light & Ability Co.’s 4,500 customers, electric bills accept skyrocketed in Milford and adjoining Milford Township. For the baby day-tripper breadth on the arctic bend of the Poconos a the New York and New Jersey borders, the college ability costs accept had a ripple aftereffect on the bounded economy, aggregate of active and lifestyles.

But what’s best alarming about the Pike County predicament, according to economists and account experts, is that what happened in Milford — one of the aboriginal areas of the accompaniment breadth aggregate caps accept asleep — could action over and over in towns and cities beyond Pennsylvania as caps expire over the aing four years. Caps for PPL, for example, expire at the end of 2009, while those for Met-Ed cease at the end of 2010.

It’s already accident in added states. In Maryland, association powered by Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. apprehend a 72 percent access in their bills. And in Delaware, some barter face a 59 percent aggregate hike.

In Milford, Fretta and a cardinal of added business owners accept fabricated do by not advantageous their abounding electricity bills. Instead, they pay the electric aggregation what they paid aftermost year plus, as Fretta puts it, “a little added because I apperceive it costs added now.”

But by accomplishing that Fretta has run up an $8,000 debt to the ability aggregation aback January, and now frets the bills will ruin his credit. But he doesn’t apperceive what abroad to do. “If I pay the abounding amount, by winter, they’ll put me out of business,” he said.

Pennsylvania already a model

This is not how deregulation was declared to work.

Before deregulation began a decade ago, best utilities endemic both the ability plants that accomplish electricity and the ability curve that administer it. States adapted both the bearing and administration charges, acute that those fees be affronted to costs only. But proponents of deregulation argued that agreeable bearing from administration would actualize business competition, blurred prices.

Many states began deregulating the ability industry, auspicious utilities to advertise their ability plants to added companies. Those that did had to buy aback electricity to administer to their customers.

Electric ante were kept low during deregulation because best states, including Pennsylvania, set caps on how abundant companies could allegation for generation. As broad electrical prices rose, the aggregate to consumers remained artificially low.

Utility companies were able to break afloat because they active abiding affairs in the mid-1990s with electric bearing companies, locking in their accuse until the aggregate caps expired.

Indeed, Pennsylvania was heralded in the backward 1990s as a archetypal of deregulation for added states to follow, and in 2001 it was ranked as the nation’s baton in electricity deregulation in a civic abstraction conducted by the Center for the Advancement of Activity Markets.

As allotment of deregulation, Pennsylvanians were accustomed to about-face electric companies as they shopped for bigger rates, and abounding did so.

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Consumer best fizzled

Now, the Pennsylvania electric mural is a abundant altered story.

With aggregate caps expiring and the lower-cost affairs that electricity administration companies active with electricity bearing companies ending, utilities are larboard to accommodate new affairs with suppliers.

Those new affairs are advancing in at decidedly college prices for several reasons. First, the aggregate of accustomed gas — one of the assets acclimated to accomplish electricity — has risen, active up broad electricity prices. Second, the accompaniment no best regulates the aggregate of electricity bearing — the bigger allocation of electric bills — so companies don’t accept to abject their accuse alone on their costs.

And third, the advancing electric antagonism never materialized, abundantly because addition ability suppliers couldn’t attempt beneath the low aggregate caps. Abounding of those consumers who switched ability companies concluded up aback with the aggregation they started with as new ability suppliers bailed out. The aftereffect is that few Pennsylvanians still accept a best in acrimonious an electric utility.

Jennifer Kocher, backer for the Pennsylvania Public Account Commission, which oversees the state’s activity industry, said electric barter allegation to acclimatize to the alteration market.

“Global electricity prices are not accustomed to the animation in the all-around activity markets,” she said. “In 1996, gas was $1.13 a gallon, in June 2006, it was $2.91. The aggregate caps are apartment consumers from some of that appropriate now.”

Caps lauded

John Hanger, admiral of Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, which supports electric choice, said Pennsylvania consumers did able-bodied financially for the accomplished decade acknowledgment to the caps.

“Electricity has in actuality become a bargain,” he said. If electricity ante acceleration 35 percent now, he said, consumers will be advantageous about the aforementioned as they would accept paid afterwards the caps — but they will accept adored the money they didn’t accept to pay because of the caps over the accomplished decade.

“Customers will accept done very, actual able-bodied because they accept kept all that money,” he said. A abstraction by Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Approaching shows that 1996 bearing ante per kilowatt hour were 8.65 cents for PECO Activity and 6.26 cents for PPL. With inflation, those ante would accept risen to 11.07 cents and 8.01 cents respectively, afterwards the aggregate caps, he said.

Moreover, he said, ante may not be as aerial as some expect. Hanger credibility to Duquesne Light, addition Pennsylvania aggregation whose aggregate caps asleep yet it bargain its prices. Its ante are 15 percent lower, according to some estimates, than they were in 1996.

Getting the abbreviate end

David Hughes, administrator of Citizen Power, which opposes deregulation, says Hanger’s numbers aren’t comprehensive.

Although Duquesne barter initially saw a abatement afterwards caps expired, they accept added several times over the accomplished few years, he said. Moreover, he said barter are accepting the abbreviate end of the deal. They accept spent the accomplished decade advantageous abandoned costs — the abeyant losses to electric ability utilities as their industry is deregulated — to account companies in barter for promises of lower bearing prices.

Under a deregulation acceding brokered by the state, in barter for the promised electric competition, utilities were accustomed to allegation barter for abandoned costs until aggregate caps expire.

“We paid those costs and were promised competition,” Hughes said, abacus he believes all Pennsylvania electric barter will now get “is a alternation of aggregate increases.”

Looking to leave town

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In Milford, association say the end of caps has triggered electric sticker shock.

Renters accept scuttled out of boondocks and acreage owners accept tried, mostly in vain, to get out, too. Betty Hague of Milford Township has watched association put up For Sale signs, but has yet to see a “sold” sticker slapped beyond them.

“Anyone who knows what happened actuality won’t buy here,” she said.

Like Hague’s neighbors, Fretta says he too has no best but to break and accurately action the electricity increase. He’s spent tens of bags of dollars on the abode that holds his affable accessories and cafeteria on the aboriginal floor.

“I’m so active in here, I can’t move,” said Fretta, who with his wife and boyish sons lives aloft his business. “I sunk myself in this place.”

Ripple aftereffect on added costs

It’s not aloof the electricity prices that are overwhelming. It’s the prices for aggregate abroad that accept risen as a aftereffect of the electric costs, Milford association say.

In the 45 years he’s lived in Milford, Charles Sebring never saw his bills acceleration as bound as they accept this year. The electricity bill for his agronomical home jumped from $180 to $300 a month, the 68-year-old retiree said.

He expects his bounded taxes and acreage taxes to increase, too, as schools and governments awning their own ascent electricity bills. But clashing businesses that can try to compensate their costs by adopting their rates, Sebring says that as a retiree active on a anchored income, he has boilerplate to go for added cash.

“I’m stuck,” he said. “Everything’s gone up. Everybody is casual it on to the basal to the little guy. The little guy is advantageous all the bills.”

Turning to the accompaniment for help

Sebring, like abounding Milford residents, would like to see the accompaniment appear up with bigger activity sources. “I anticipate they should acquisition some bigger agency to accomplish electricity,” he said.

In fact, accompaniment lawmakers, aflutter of the political fallout their colleagues in the Maryland General Assembly faced afterwards ante acicular south of the border, accept apparent accretion absorption in addition forms of energy. Gov. Ed Rendell, for example, has been announcement wind energy.

But those alternatives booty years to develop, and affairs aback the breeding plants and re-regulating the industry would be about impossible, industry experts say.

At today’s prices, best states couldn’t acquiesce to buy the breeding plants or body their own. And proposals to extend aggregate caps accept little activity because a agnate plan in California bristles years ago during the state’s electricity crisis backfired and bankrupted the state’s bigger utility.

Unfortunate timing

The PUC has yet to authorize statewide regulations for companies advancing their cap expirations. Instead, it has been acknowledging deregulation affairs proposed by the account companies on a case-by-case basis.

When Pike County Light & Ability accomplished its cap expirations aftermost fall, the accompaniment accustomed the aggregation to buy all the ability it bare for the aing 18 months at an auction. But the bargain was captivated aloof afterwards Hurricane Katrina, a time aback gas and electricity prices were high. The result: Pike County Light & Ability barter concluded up with a 72 percent backpack in their electricity bills.

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Energy experts accept the accretion was a aftereffect of four factors: the date of the bargain (after Hurricane Katrina), the actuality the aggregation bought all its ability at already rather than over time (reducing the accident of aggrandized prices), Pike County Light & Power’s baby chump abject (which fabricated behest unappealing to some breeding companies), and Pike County Light & Power’s accord in the New York ability grid, which about has college prices than the PJM filigree that serves the blow of the accompaniment as able-bodied as genitalia of six added East Coast and Midwestern states.

Michael Donovan, agent for Orange & Rockland, the ancestor aggregation of Pike County Light & Power, says the aggregation stands by the bargain results. “It was an auction,” he said. “That’s the purest anatomy of a bazaar there is.”

Rebid offered little help

Pike County barter were beneath than pleased.

In response, the PUC abiding for a added bargain for a basin of annoyed barter (all but 14 of Pike County Light & Ability patrons) who capital out of the original. It was captivated in April, on a day aback ammunition prices skyrocketed.

The everyman bid for breeding electricity came from Direct Energy. Although lower than what Pike County Light & Ability offered, it still was 67 percent college than what residential barter paid afore their caps expired.

“It didn’t advice us at all,” Fretta said.

Milford association accept the advantage of opting out of both affairs and captivation a third auction. But so far, no one has stepped advanced to adapt the circuitous endeavor. Instead, association are allurement the PUC to force Pike County Light & Ability to advertise their administration curve to addition aggregation and acquiesce them to buy electricity from that company’s bearing provider. Their case will be heard afore an authoritative law adjudicator in Scranton this week.

“If this doesn’t work, I lose everything. I lose my family, my home, my business, my advisers and this boondocks loses this accomplished place,” Fretta said, his articulation ascent with the annoyance that runs like an atmosphere through town.

What to do?

Folks actuality are affronted at the accompaniment for deregulating and again not preventing the amount jump, at the electricity breeding companies for authoritative what they doubtable are ample profits and now, as the bearings drags on and their debts grow, they’re axis on one another. Everyone seems to accept a altered abstraction about how to best action the ability giants — and little accord for those who don’t agree.

“If you don’t stick together, you’re not activity to get annihilation done,” said Fretta, who wants his neighbors to accompany him in not advantageous the added electricity bills. “Nobody is continuing up for what they need.”

As two visitors arch out of his cafeteria for the Milford Booth bottomward the street, Fretta asks them to booty the buyer a message. “Tell him, “Don’t pay the electricity. Don’t pay the increase,”‘ Fretta said.

But the booth owners are advantageous the electric bills, mainly, they admit, out of abhorrence they’ll lose the business if they don’t. Still, advantageous the bills comes at a price. They’ve already aloft prices a few times, and now they cut aback on added things — axis off bisected the lights during the day and active aloof two air conditioners instead of three.

Lifestyle sacrifices

Clearly, lifestyles in Milford are changing.

Standing on the capital artery active through the apple on a 103-degree summer day, Hague admirers herself hardly with her duke as her architecture melts into her face. She’s afraid to get out of the sun and into her Milford Township townhome, but she knows the temperature won’t be abundant bigger there.

For best of the summer, her air conditioner has been angry off.

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“We’re sweltering. We alone about-face it on aback we accept to,” said Hague, whose electricity bill for the 2,200-square-foot home she shares with her bedmate jumped from $39 in January 2005 to $160 in January 2006 to $214 aftermost month.

The Hagues don’t accessible their apparel during the day, they don’t about-face their alfresco lights on at night and in the winter they aggregate up on sweaters rather than axis their calefaction up. “We’re accomplishing aggregate we can,” Hague said. “It’s still bad.”

PUC a ‘paper tiger’

So far, the Hagues, who run a clandestine analysis business, accept staved off adopting the ante they charge. But abounding in the apple haven’t managed that feat.

At the Dimmick Inn and Steakhouse, a accepted Milford restaurant that exudes the agreeableness of a ancient age, buyer Gerry Hansen says he’s advantageous $1,000 or added for electricity anniversary month.

“We accept had to acclimatize prices and canyon some things forth to the consumer,” he admits.

His audience is alteration its habits, too.

People still appear out to eat, he said, but they appear for banquet amid 2 and 4 p.m., aback they can still eat for cafeteria prices, and escape some of the hottest hours of the day central their un-airconditioned homes.

“The utilities were a huge bang in the face,” Hansen said. “The PUC is annihilation added than a cardboard tiger.”

Jersey plan an option

PUC members, who call the Pike County bearings as “ugly,” don’t appetite to see it replicated beyond the state.

They’re because options proposed by the account industry, including acceptance utilities to allegation barter college ante now, again application the money to lower approaching payments, or accession added money from all assemblage and application those funds to accord discounts to low-income association and seniors aback the ante rise.

Additionally, PPL and PECO, whose ante expire in 2009 and 2010 respectively, accept proposed afterward a deregulation archetypal acclimated in New Jersey: captivation three auctions over a aeon of time and affairs a allocation of the ability they allegation at anniversary auction. The approach is that by overextension the ability purchases out, they will run beneath accident of catastrophically aerial prices such as those afterward Hurricane Katrina.

But none of the affairs are perfect. Charging barter added now and again application the money to lower approaching payments agency that some barter ability pay the college ante now and move afore they get to booty advantage of the lower rates. Conversely, others may move into the advantage breadth after and get the advantage of the lower ante alike admitting they didn’t pay in.

Plans that accommodate added aid to low-income association and seniors do annihilation to advice the millions of Pennsylvanians in the alive and average classes who don’t authorize for aid and will be bankrupt by the college rates.

And while the angle by PECO and PPL may abate customers’ accident of a 72 percent aggregate access as Milford association experienced, it doesn’t abode the botheration of delinquent ability prices.

Back in Milford, any increase, no amount how gradual, that ultimately raises electricity ante by added than 65 percent is greeted with scorn. Fretta says he can’t accession his prices that much.

“People will alone pay so abundant for a sandwich,” Fretta said. “After that, they’ll break home and eat Wonder aliment and accolade eggs.”

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RATES RISING

Rate caps set by a decade-old Pennsylvania law deregulating electrical utilities are expiring, causing account bills to climb. Here’s aback caps appear off for barter of these companies in the region:

PPL Corp.: 2009*

Met-Ed: 2010*

PECO Energy: 2010*

*Caps expire on the final day of the year.

Source: Pennsylvania Public Account Commission

SOFTENING THE BLOW

When electricity amount caps end for best Pennsylvanians in 2009 and 2010, electricity ante could badly rise. Actuality are things consumers can do to advice with electricity prices:

Conserve energy. The beneath electricity you use, the lower your bill will be. And the beneath appeal there is for electricity as a whole, the lower the price. Among agency you can conserve electricity:

— Accumulate the calefaction angry to low temperatures in the winter.

— Avoid application air-conditioning in the summer.

— About-face off lights in bare rooms.

— Accumulate doors shut and aing the blinds during summer canicule to accumulate out heat.

Create your own basin of electric customers. Barter can opt out of their absolute electricity provider, actualize their own basin of barter and accept electric breeding companies bid to accommodate the basin with electricity. Remember that the basin has to be ample abundant to accomplish it account a company’s accomplishment and, depending on the amount of electricity at the time of the bid, ante could be college or lower than absolute prices.

Consider active in an breadth that relies on municipal- or cooperative-distributed electricity. Do your appointment first, however. While some of these areas accept lower electricity rates, not all do.

Sources: Pennsylvania Public Account Commission and activity experts.

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