Several third-party electricity suppliers are not complying with a state order to disclose future rates on customers’ bills, and energy regulators say they are considering a self-reporting option to bring the companies into line and compensate users.
The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority said it is weighing a time limited “amnesty period” for the suppliers because, while the agency has the power to levy fines against utilities and other businesses under its purview, it cannot order those companies to pay restitution to customers.
The amnesty plan proposes to give power suppliers the chance to be up front about their violations and voluntarily refund users in exchange for protection from related civil penalties.
The agency said any reimbursements would be determined in accordance with orders issued in the PURA docket.
Connecticut residents currently have the choice of buying power from the state’s two utility companies, Eversource Energy and the United Illuminating Co., or from competing licensed suppliers that buy wholesale electricity and use the infrastructure of the power distributors to deliver it. Suppliers’ rates may ultimately be higher or lower than the standard residential rates offered by Eversource and United Illuminating depending on the terms of specific contracts and energy sources used.
Renewed discussions over rate disclosures stem from a 2015 decision by PURA clarifying that customers must be notified of their next billing cycle rate before that rate is actually incurred.
At the time, the agency was looking into complaints of unannounced, sometimes extreme rate hikes tied to exceptionally frigid conditions during the winter of 2014. Some third-party suppliers were charging well beyond the rate offered by Eversource’s forerunner, Connecticut Light & Power; in response, lawmakers put forward new regulations aimed at curtailing deceptive billing and marketing practices in the industry.
Redesigned bills issued in accordance with the advanced notification rules were supposed to include the customer’s generation rate and the term of that rate, any change that will take effect in the next billing cycle, a cancellation fee, if any, comparisons with the distributor’s standard rate, and whether the rate is considered variable.
Subsequent investigations by PURA suggested that several power suppliers have not been providing timely billing details to electricity distributors, meaning the information cannot be passed on to customers.
Third-party electricity suppliers have seen considerable fluctuations in their fortunes since the early 2000s, when the state began wide-scale deregulation of electric generation.
Over 729,000 households — about 47 percent of total customers — had switched to third-party companies by 2012, but rising prices under variable rate plans hampered further growth and sent many residents back to the standard service agreements offered by Eversource and United Illuminating.
The state legislature voted to ban variable rate residential electricity contracts in 2015.