When people think about “legislators” they naturally think about elected officials as “law makers.” Making laws is certainly an important and large part of being a “legislator,” but an equally important part of the job is constituent service. Many times, “constituent service” is the most satisfying part of the job.
Recently, Attorney General William Tong announced that thousands of Connecticut families would be receiving refunds for overcharges on their home electric bills. In fact, the refunds could affect as many as 500,000 Connecticut families who may have been overcharged on their electric bills. The refunds were the result of a complaint I had filed with the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (“PURA”) in February of 2018. I had noticed that my electric bill increased a whopping amount in one month and when I looked closely, I realized that the rate I was being charged was almost double the rate I had been told I was going to be charged! What I learned as a result of my pursuit of my complaint was eye-opening.
Initially, I contacted representatives of Eversource. I asked them if I misunderstood my bill. They assured me I was correct. I then asked them what they would do about correcting my bill and they told me, “It’s not our problem”! I was stunned because the error was on their bills with their name on it. Nevertheless, they told me the problem was with the “supplier” of my electricity and I should contact that supplier. I did contact the “supplier” who told me they had no idea what information Eversource had on their bills and I should contact Eversource! Yes, they all were sending me in circles. Does this sound familiar?
When I insisted that Eversource take responsibility for the problem since they had conveyed the incorrect information to me on their utility bill, they reiterated “It’s not our problem”. So, the next day I filed a complaint with PURA and held a press conference to alert the public to the problem because I knew by then that the problem was not something unique to my utility bill. It reflected a systems failure between the utilities and the electric suppliers. No one bothered to confirm the accuracy of the information on consumer bills. This left the door wide open for mistakes, or worse, outright fraud.
I actively participated as an “Intervenor” on behalf of the public in this case and attended a series of PURA meetings to listen to what the utilities, the suppliers, the Office of Consumer Counsel, the Attorney General and the PURA itself had to say. To my surprise there was an awareness of the problem going back to January of 2016, when the new utility billing format was mandated. But while there was an awareness, there was no sense of urgency to resolve the problem even though hundreds of thousands of electricity consumers were potentially overcharged. PURA appeared to be going through the motions but didn’t aggressively pressure the utilities or the suppliers to get the problem solved, even though it potentially affected hundreds of thousands of families.
I also learned that PURA had no authority to order refunds for cases where consumers had been overcharged, even when the suppliers didn’t contest the claims. PURA could order fines but could not order mere restitution of amounts overcharged. This is a situation that needs to be rectified in the next legislative session.
In the meantime, thousands of Connecticut families will be receiving checks in the near future. In light of the record of carelessness and indifference on the part of the utilities and the electric suppliers, I urge readers to double check their electric bills back to January of 2016 if they purchased their electricity from any of the electricity suppliers. Nearly one-third of Connecticut ratepayers may be affected.
In light of the unreliable and erroneous track record of the utilities and the electric suppliers, I urge people to personally review their electric bills and compare the “next cycle rate” with the actual rate in their electric bills the following month. They may find out, like I did, that they were overcharged hundreds of dollars for their electricity. The Attorney General estimated that the average overcharge was $45 per month. That means over 1 year a consumer may have been overcharged more than $500. If you were overcharged, you will be entitled to a refund. But don’t take the utilities’ or suppliers’ word for how much you may have been overcharged.
When it comes to your electric bill, “Don’t trust — verify”!
Len Suzio is a former state senator.