by Robert Walton July 10, 2017
- The District of Columbia Public Service Commission has proposed new protections for electric and natural gas customers, including allowing additional time to cancel a contract, adding requirements to advertising variable-rate contracts, and speeding service changes while adding layers of verification.
- D.C.’s Office of the People’s Counsel proposed classifying distributed generation providers as energy suppliers, but the Commission said the decision on how to classify DG would be discussed in its grid modernization docket, F.C. 1130.
- The new protections came as part of a rulemaking designed to amend certain provisions of the district’s Utility Consumer Bill of Rights within the retail electrical choice market.
- Utility regulators in the nation’s capitol are considering new consumer protections that could change how competitive retail providers of electricity and gas interact with customers.
For an electricity customer, transfers to a new supplier should take no more than three business days after the utility has received notice of the change, and new privacy policies will protect customer information.
The changes specify that within 24 hours after making changes to publicly available current offers, retail suppliers “shall provide the Commission Secretary with information regarding the changes in its rates, charges and services that are being made so that the Commission has current information about the Energy Supplier.”
Changing the definition of “energy supplier,” to include “persons engaged in distributed generation” could expand distributed resource requirements, butEnergy Choice Matters notes some provisions apply to “contracts” rather than suppliers, so the impact of OPC’s proposal is unclear. And the PSC will decide whether or not to classify DG as an “energy supplier” in its ongoing grid modernization proceeding.
Consumer protections, particularly for low-income ratepayers, have become an increasing focus. New York has taken steps to crack down on unscrupulous marketing, and last week a New York court maintained the state’s ban on energy service company sales to low-income customers.
Reporting by Paul Ring July 5, 2017
The District of Columbia PSC has issued proposed revisions to various retail electric and natural gas rules
Among the notable proposed changes is that, for advertisements of a variable rate, such ads shall include an explanation of the variable rate that should indicate that:
(1) A variable price may be based on market conditions;
(2) There is no limit to the amount of the increase to a variable price; and
(3) The amount of the monthly bill based on a variable price could increase substantially from the amount of the initial introductory price;
The proposed changes would also modify the rescission period to being a “3-day” period to, “three (3) business days”
The proposed rules would affirm that there are three (3) principal ways in which a residential Customer may enter into a Contract with an Energy Supplier:
(a) Through a recorded verbal consent via the telephone solicitation;
(b) Electronic contract; or
(c) Written contract.
Notable is that the proposed rules would now specifically apply the various rules governing telemarketing calls to telesales initiated by a customer call to the supplier, including calls made in response to direct mail.
For telephonic enrollments, the proposed rule adds, “an automated, computerized system,” as an acceptable form of verification. Specifically, to verify a residential Customer’s intent to contract with an Energy Supplier by telephone, an Energy Supplier must utilize either:
(1) An Independent Third-Party telephone verification; or
(2) An automated, computerized system; or
(3) An electronic recording of the entire conversation between the Customer and the Energy Supplier which the Energy Supplier shall maintain for three (3) years.
The draft changes clarify that all forms of telephonic verifications listed above shall ask the following questions (the prior rules only required that Independent Third-Party verifications ask these questions):
(a) “Are you the Customer of record?”
(b) “Did you agree to switch your natural gas supply service or electric supply service to [New Supplier]?” and
(c) “Is [Customer’s address] your correct address?” or “ls [Customer’s Utility Account number] your correct Utility Account number?”
The proposed rules include accelerated switching for electricity.
Specifically, under the draft rules, the Electric Utility shall transfer a customer to a competitive electricity supplier in no later than 3 business days after receiving the notice of an enrollment transaction from the competitive electricity supplier. The Electric Utility shall transfer a customer to Standard Offer Service in no later than 3 business days after receiving the customer’s request.
For natural gas enrollments, the draft provides that not less than seven (7) days before the first day of the next month each Energy Supplier shall provide to the Natural Gas Utility a list of new customers to be supplied by that Energy Supplier beginning with the first day of the next month. In contrast, the current rule provides that, by the ninth (9th) calendar day of the month (or next business day, if the ninth day falls on a holiday or weekend), each Energy Supplier shall provide to the Natural Gas Utility a list of customers to be supplied by that Energy Supplier beginning with the customer’s Meter read date the following month.
The draft rules would require that each Energy Supplier shall institute a “Privacy Protection Policy” to protect against the unauthorized disclosure or use of information about a customer or a customer’s use of service. Additionally, regarding the required consumer pamphlet all suppliers must currently produce and for which suppliers must seek approval from the PSC, the draft rules provide that, if the Commission does not reject or otherwise act on the pamphlet within thirty (30) days of its filing, the consumer pamphlet shall be deemed approved.
The draft rules also clarify that, “Within twenty-four (24) hours after making changes to its publically available current offers (as posted on the Commission’s website), an Energy Supplier shall provide the Commission Secretary with information regarding the changes in its rates, charges and services that are being made so that the Commission has current information about the Energy Supplier.”
The existing rule does not include qualifying language limiting such obligation to the supplier’s publicly available current offers, “as posted on the Commission’s website.”
Finally, the draft rules would amend the definition of “Energy Supplier,” to include language stating that, “The term applies to persons engaged in distributed generation.” This ostensibly would subject distributed generation providers to all of the rules applicable to “energy suppliers” (note, certain requirements refer to electric supply contracts, rather than suppliers themselves, so it is unclear the extent to which distributed generation providers would be wholly subject to any retail electric regulations).