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January 30, 2017

CT leaders seek probe of electric supplier marketing tactics

PHOTO | Senate Democrats Senate President Pro Tempore Martin M. Looney, (D-New Haven), left, and Consumer Counsel Ellen Swanson Katz speak at a press conference calling for the state to investigate whether Connecticut's most vulnerable customers are being disproportionately impacted by abusive sales practices and unreasonably high rates for retail electric generation.

State Senate Democrats and Consumer Counsel Elin Swanson Katz are calling for a public probe into retail electric suppliers’ marketing practices, saying they are abusive and result in unreasonably high rates for low-income consumers and other “vulnerable” groups.

Katz and Senate President Pro Tempore Martin M. Looney (D-New Haven) are asking the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) to investigate concerns on behalf of senior citizens, consumers for whom English is a second language and consumers with disabilities.

[Update: As Feb. 2, PURA had not yet decided on the request]

In 2014, in response to growing customer complaints and dishonest billing and marketing practices, state leaders created a bill of rights for electric customers. But the amount of unpaid electricity bills overall that ratepayers are now subsidizing -- $50 million in 2016 -- warrants a full investigation, said Looney and Katz.

Katz called the rates charged by some electric retailers “needlessly high.”

For the year of January through December 2016, residential customers who chose a retail supplier paid, in total, $59 million more than those relying on standard fees from major suppliers, Eversource Energy and United Illuminating, Katz said.

In December 2016 alone, residential utility customers in Connecticut paid approximately $7.6 million more than the standard offer for their electric generation, she said.

During December 2016, retail suppliers served 29 percent of Eversource residential customers and 35.8 percent of UI residential customers.

Katz urges consumers who are interested in choosing a retail supplier to shop on to avoid misleading marketing practices.

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