The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission today gave final approval for Peco Energy Co. to raise rates Jan. 1 for electricity and natural gas customers.

For electric customers, the latest increase is on so-called distribution charges and is not related to the expiration of rate caps on the generation portion of bills, the PUC said in a statement.

The increases approved today will average about 5 percent, or about $5 a month for electricity customers, Peco said. Overall bills for Peco residential natural gas customers will rise an average 1 percent, or about $1 a month, beginning in January, the company said.

Peco has about 1.3 million residential electricity customers, but the removal of rate caps on electricity generation under Pennsylvania's Electric Choice Act is opening competition from other suppliers.

At least 17 companies are vying with Peco to supply electricty to residential customers starting in January. All 17 were promoting prices that are initially lower than Peco's residential "price-to-compare" of 9.92 cents per kilowatt hour.

For information on comparing prices and choosing a supplier, see

Separately, PPL Electric Utilities, Allentown, said the PUC approved rates for that company that, on balance, will keep electric bills about the same for existing PPL customers. Changes include an increase in distribution charges, and decreases in transmission and PPL generation charges.    - Reid Kanaley