Utilities
8:43 am
Thu May 1, 2014

State Senate Measure Could Change the Face of Electric Bills

"We have this bizarre paradigm [where] you pay for something, and you're told the price afterwards."
Elin Katz

The state senate has unanimously passed a bill to address many complaints against independent electricity suppliers.

For one, people are paying too much: an earlier report from the Office of Consumer Counsel put the extra cost at more than $13 million a month altogether. The Senate bill would require suppliers to tell their customers a lot more about what they're paying for.

Elin Katz, Connecticut's Consumer Counsel, explained that the cornerstone of the Senate measure is about fixing one problem. "We have this, to me, bizarre paradigm," she said, "[where] you pay for something, and you're told the price afterwards."

The solution, Katz said, is more transparency. "The next month's rate," she said, "and the standard offer rate -- that is, the rate that you can get from your electric company, CL&P or UI -- will appear on the face of your bill."

The Senate measure would also require suppliers to list the highest and lowest variable rates in the past 12 months. It would also let people switch back to the standard rate from CL&P or UI within 72 hours, and give out a lot more information.

Even if the bill passes the House, not all of the fixes will be immediate.

The bill now goes to the House, with a week left in the legislative session.

John Erlingheuser, director of advocacy for the Connecticut AARP, said it's not enough. He said the bill is a good start, but he'd also like to see a cap on rates, and a disclosure of whether or not there is a cap on rate. He'd also like to see no defaulting to variable rate contracts, and an elimination of the cancellation fees. "We get those things taken care of," he said, "and then they have a very, very strong bill."

Even if the bill passes the House, not all of the fixes will be immediate. For example, one of the proposals would call for more regulations about the marketing and sales practices of independent suppliers, and that requires action from the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, not just politicians. Even when it comes to telling customers how much the next month's rate will be needs time. Companies would have to figure out and disclose those rates in advance.

High power costs, and problems with independent suppliers, are by no means unique to Connecticut. Katz said her counterparts along the east coast, from Washington to Maine, are discussing these issues as well.