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April 21, 2016 Connecticut Green Guide

PURA reduces penalty for power supplier

The state’s utilities regulator has issued a final $60,500 penalty to electricity supplier Liberty Power for backbilling commercial, government and nonprofit customers in violation of state law.

Of the 121 backbills generated, 29 were $5,000 or higher, while one totaled more than $41,000, the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) said in a decision last week.

Liberty, one of approximately 50 third-party suppliers licensed in Connecticut, had originally faced a much larger fine of $294,000, but won the reduction through an appeals process that played out over the past 11 months.

PURA's decision said actions Liberty took after discovering it had underbilled some of its commercial accounts starting in late 2013 violated state law, which requires suppliers to establish a three-month payment plan for affected customers and caps the amounts suppliers can backbill.

The Liberty backbills contained electricity rates ranging from 19 cents to $2.24 per kilowatt hour, well above the nine-cent standard rate offered by Eversource at the time, PURA said.

PURA commended Eversource, which handles billing for Liberty and various other suppliers, for promptly alerting the agency to the matter. Eversource first warned Liberty that the backbill rates it had submitted were potentially illegal, but Liberty decided to issue them anyway, according to PURA.

Liberty argued that no backbilled customer actually paid the amounts billed, because the company canceled the bills. But PURA contends that the company only canceled the bills once it learned of PURA’s decision to open a probe of the matter in early April 2014, which Liberty denied.

Even if no customers paid the backbills, PURA ruled that the issuance of the bills alone was enough to justify the final fine, which amounts to $500 per violation.

Liberty also argued that it had intended to make payment plans available and did not understand that the law required the plans be offered at the time invoices are mailed.

“The Authority considered Liberty’s justifications but finds them unpersuasive,” the final decision reads.

Liberty, which has been operating in Connecticut since 2007, must remit payment to the state by mid-May.

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