December 28, 2018

PURA weighs amnesty for electricity supplier billing violations

Photo Illustration | Marcin Moryc, shutterstock.com
Photo Illustration | Marcin Moryc, shutterstock.com

Several competitive or third-party electricity suppliers operating in Connecticut aren't following tightened rules about notifying customers of their upcoming rates, according to consumer complaints, and the state's utility regulator is trying to decide what to do about it.

While it has the legal authority under state law to fine suppliers and various other energy entities, the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) says it lacks the authority to order suppliers to pay restitution to customers they have wronged.

A bill seeking to give PURA that authority passed the House this year, but not the Senate.

Given that its hands are partially tied and that there have been complaints from ratepayers -- including outgoing Sen. Len Suzio (R-Meriden), who complained that his monthly electric bills displayed inaccurate rate information conveyed from his supplier -- PURA is considering another option: offering amnesty to suppliers who come forward voluntarily to admit they broke the rules, and provide customer refunds.

In exchange, PURA could agree to refrain from issuing civil penalties against the cooperating suppliers, according to a recent PURA filing proposing to open a formal proceeding to weigh the matter.

Like many state agencies seeing personnel shakeups due to the incoming Ned Lamont administration, PURA this week learned it would lose its chair, Katie Dykes, after Lamont nominated her to lead the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

Legislators and PURA have cracked down on the electricity supplier market in recent years, requiring more stringent disclosures, banning variable-rate residential contracts, and issuing large penalties for marketing violations.

Meanwhile, suppliers continue to lose market share, state data show.

For the past 12 months through October, suppliers claimed just under 25 percent of Eversource's residential customers and under 32 percent of United Illuminating's residential customers, according to the Office of Consumer Counsel.

Suppliers' statewide residential market share has been falling steadily after reaching a high of 45 percent in 2012.

Since 2014, Consumer Counsel Elin Katz has made a point of highlighting -- often to the chagrin of suppliers -- how the majority of Connecticut ratepayers pay more when using a supplier rather than simply opting for their electric utility's "standard offer" rate.

In her latest report on the supplier market, Katz said Connecticut residential ratepayers who opted to use a third party instead of their utility for electricity supply paid, in aggregate, $38.7 million more than the standard offer over the past 12 months.

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