In HIKO Energy, LLC v. Pennsylvania PUC, No. 5 C.D. 2016, slip op. (June 8, 2017), a divided Commonwealth Court affirmed the Public Utility Commission’s (PUC) civil penalty of approximately $1.84 million against HIKO Energy, LLC (HIKO), an electric generation supplier (EGS) which, during the polar vortex effects of the winter of 2014, intentionally charged 5,700 customers a rate that exceeded their “guaranteed” introductory rate on nearly 15,000 invoices at the express direction of its management and chief executive officer (CEO). The PUC’s policy for evaluating litigated and settled proceedings involving violations of the Public Utility Code (Code), which exposes companies who are unwilling or unable to negotiate a settlement to greater penalties, resulted in a penalty far greater than those imposed on EGSs that settled complaints stemming from the 2014 polar vortex. The Court’s decision endorses both the PUC policy and its result, and underscores the importance of retaining counsel with the experience to negotiate early settlements in complaints alleging serious Code violations.
“Tip Letter” and Records Related to Investigation Leading to PUC-Approved Settlement Not Subject to Disclosure
The PUC is not required to disclose a utility employee’s “tip letter” or other records relating to an investigation of the utility’s practices where the documents are not considered by the Commissioners when approving the resulting settlement.