PURA mulls changes in electric billing

Published on Tuesday, 7 August 2018 20:20
Written by Charles Paullin


NEW BRITAIN - The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority is closer to making a decision on redesigning bills for third-party electric supplier customers.

A hearing on documents submitted by Eversource Energy and United Illuminating explaining what it would take to make the changes, was held July 30 at PURA headquarters in New Britain.

The hearing is held as part of a reopened investigation by PURA to see how third-party electric suppliers are providing information to electric distribution companies such as Eversource and United Illuminating. The investigation was first opened in 2015 and reopened in March.

Eversource and UI have explained that the issue of different rates or missing information on bills stems from third-party suppliers not providing the accurate information in a timely manner.

The two companies’ internal systems do not “flag” a lack of information, the companies said.

As a result, any errors provided to Eversource or UI by the suppliers are passed directly to the customers.

The investigation’s reopening coincides with issues raised by state Sen. Len Suzio, R-Meriden.

He said he was being charged by a third-party supplier at a rate higher than what he was previously told.

In the hearings, Eversource and UI acknowledged that there is an issue that needs to be addressed.

The technical and system changes discussed to address the issues are estimated to cost around $691,000 for Eversource and around $780,000 for UI.

They could take anywhere from two to nine months.

The costs do not include changes that may need to be made by the suppliers.

One of the proposed changes is to have third-party suppliers submit rate changes two months before it takes effect so that the change can be printed on the bills as the next cycle rate and held for two billing periods. Currently, Eversource can accept information changes at any time and United Illuminating can as close as two days before the start of the month.

PURA suggests customers make third-party supplier changes, if they want to, at least 10 days out of their next billing cycle so the process changes can take effect before receiving their next bill.

As part of the discussion, an issue of flagging so-called “Incidental Residential Accounts” came up.

Those accounts are ones in which a business - the University of Connecticut, for example - receives a business rate on electricity going to residential housing on campus. Those accounts would have information on their bills different than regular residential accounts, Eversource and UI said at the hearing, and therefore require a different system for flagging and putting the information on the bills.

PURA’s Art Marcelynas and Kimberly White asked on July 30 whether it would be better to make all the proposed changes at once or in stages.

Both companies contended that making individual changes would cost more than making all the changes at once.

During the hearings, Suzio contended that something should be sent out now to the third-party supplier customers telling them of possible inaccuracies in their bills.

“I think we want more than just one simple little statement to the effect of ‘Go and talk to your supplier about this,’” Suzio said. He said phone numbers of third-party suppliers should be added.

“Most people wouldn’t know what that means … they would consider Eversource and UI to be the suppliers.”

Vice Chairman John W. Betkoski III, who was presiding over the hearing with Commissioner Michael A. Caron, inquired about sending a recorded message, similar to what the companies do for power outages. Both companies and their present legal teams said customers opt into those services and that providing messages to them that way may require some legal precautions.

The companies were unsure if emailing such a notice would be the best method, and mailing an insert out with bills was also discussed.

No immediate action was taken on the billing issure at the hearings.

Closing briefs from all parties are due today.

A draft decision is tentatively scheduled to be distributed Sept. 19, with a final decision tentatively set for Oct. 10.

Information on the investigation can be found by looking up Docket 14-07-19RE05 at www.ct.gov/pura .

Posted in The Bristol Press, Bristol, General Business, General News on Tuesday, 7 August 2018 20:20. Updated: Tuesday, 7 August 2018 20:23.