House Gives Final Passage to Consumer Protections
The House of Representatives gave final passage Monday to legislation that requires more transparency from third-party electricity suppliers and reduces deceptive marketing tactics to residential customers.
The bill, which passed 145-0, will require suppliers to maintain their initial sign-on electric rates for at least three months. It also requires that electric bills include the standard rate, so consumers can compare it with the rate they’re paying. The legislation also gives customers greater flexibility to drop their electric supplier and forces suppliers to give more frequent notice about variable rates.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy applauded the passage of the legislation.
“This bill will help put an end to misleading and deceptive marketing practices,” he said in a statement. “It will give our families the information they need to evaluate pricing options offered by electric retailers and to choose the plan that is best for them and their pocketbooks.”
Advocates like those from the AARP wanted the legislation to go further by capping variable rates and defining how those rates are calculated.
“While the bill does provide some much needed transparency, it doesn’t go far enough to stop the kinds of abuses our members, and other state residents, have complained the most about,” Nora Duncan, AARP state director, said. “We will continue to work with policymakers to address these issues over the next year to ensure that the market works for consumers, and help them keep more of their hard-earned money where it belongs . . . in their pockets.”
Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, offered an amendment that would have, among other things, capped the variable rates, but withdrew it before a vote.
The “underlying bill is great, it just doesn’t go far enough,” Steinberg said.
But most lawmakers on both sides of the aisle felt the legislation was a step in the right direction.
Rep. Lonnie Reed, D-Branford, said she also went into the session angry, wanting to cap rates, but then she realized “these are businesses that are providing products and competing among themselves.”
“We didn’t want to be punishing the bad actors, by killing the industry,” Reed said. “We wanted to work with the good companies to help them create a better education sense.”
Consumers turned out for public hearings across the state earlier this year to voice their concerns about the marketing practices of some of these third-party suppliers. Some of those suppliers offered low introductory rates, which soon disappeared, causing consumers’ electricity bills to skyrocket.
Reed said some consumers don’t want to tolerate any risk, but there are others who get enthusiastic about it.
Rep. Laura Hoydick, R-Stratford, said the bill includes a provision that forces suppliers to tell customers if their rate will increase 25 percent. It also includes a 72-hour cancellation provision.
Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, who saw his company’s gas bill go from $6,000 a month to $35,000 a month, said he wished the bill applied to more than just electricity suppliers. He said it should apply to all energy brokers in both the residential and commercial marketplace.
But at the end of the day Candelora said he was happy to see residential consumers get the protection they deserve.
Reed said she expects that more “teeth” will be added to the effort once the state ends settlement negotiations with an unnamed entity. She said the settlement, which is expected to bring in millions of dollars to the state, will help the Public Utility Regulatory Authority hire three to four more people to enforce the new regulations.
Reed was unable to be more specific about the negotiations, but said language to enhance enforcement efforts will be added to one of the budget implementation bills.