March 18, 2020
Retail Energy Competition - Commissioner’s “Wish List”
The Commission convened its two-day workshop to review its energy rules on resource planning, renewable energy and energy efficiency. Staff said this would be the last workshop before a formal rulemaking is commenced. In an effort to give Staff guidance for drafting proposed rules, Chairman Burns wanted the Commissioners to vote but other commissioners expressed concern with taking a vote without further research and analysis. Ultimately the Commissioners decided they would submit "wish lists" for the rules package.
Public Hearing Announced
In Order-Docket 14-07-20RE01, PURA announced it will hold a public hearing on March 16, 2020. The hearing may continue on additional dates, as deemed necessary. This proposed final Decision was distributed to the parties on January 6, 2020 in this proceeding for comment. The proposed Decision is not final. The Authority will consider the parties’ arguments and exceptions before reaching a final Decision, which may differ from the proposed Decision.
Complaints of Third-Party Electricity Suppliers 'Spoofing' Phone Numbers
On February 21st, the Delaware Public Service Commission (PSC) and Delaware Division of the Public Advocate have received numerous complaints of third-party electricity suppliers 'spoofing' phone numbers in an effort to sign up households for new service contracts." Delaware PSC News Release.
These agencies remind suppliers that the PSC and Public Advocate can pursue formal action against the company or companies engaged in these activities.
IPA Seeks Input On Next Utility-Scale Wind Procurement
The Illinois Power Agency is seeking stakeholder feedback for its next utility-scale wind procurement. Please see the request here. Responses are due on March 30, 2020.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Illinois Power Agency has implemented remote work plans that may reduce the Agency’s operational capacity and delay responses to inquiries. This may also impact the administration of the Adjustable Block Program/Illinois Shines, Illinois Solar for All, and the Spring Block Energy and Capacity Procurement. The Agency and its Procurement and Program Administrators will post updates on the respective websites as needed.
Edits to the Illinois Power Agency's Revised Long-Term Renewable Resources Procurement Plan
On February the Commission provided edits to the Illinois Power Agency's Revised Long-Term Renewable Resources Procurement Plan under Section 16-111.5 of the Public Utilities Act. There are edits to the Order that clarify the Order and direct Staff to
initiate workshops to explore amendments to Parts466 and 467 of the Commission's Rules.
IPA Annual Report Issued
On February 18, 2020 the Illinois Power Agency (“IPA”) Issued Its 2019 Annual Report.
Energy Harbor Corp Emerges From FES Bankruptcy Reorganization
On February 27, 2020 as part of its bankruptcy reorganization plan, the spun-off FirstEnergy Solutions Corp. announced that the company successfully completed its chapter 11 restructuring process has emerged as a power producer and retail supplier and will go under its new name, Energy Harbor Corp.
In Docket No. EC19-123 FERC notes that “the Proposed Transaction is part of larger Reorganization Plan filed in the Bankruptcy Court, and certain parties to this proceeding request that the Commission consider the broader impact of that Reorganization Plan, particularly FES’s proposed rejection of certain Commission-jurisdictional power purchase agreements (Jurisdictional PPAs), as part of our section 203 review.
New Shopping Website Launched
On March 9th, the Maryland Public Service Commission has unveiled a new website with enhanced functionality and features. MDElectricChoice.com is the PSC’s stand-alone site where consumers can shop for and sort offers to supply their home energy needs – whether they are seeking renewable energy products, lowest price per kilowatt-hour, no monthly or early termination fees, etc.
This new electric choice website was preceded by the launch of the Commission’s secure portal for licensed residential electricity suppliers to upload current residential offers. Staff has indicated that, "If you have any constructive feedback regarding the site, we welcome your input." The site can be accessed at: https://www.mdelectricchoice.com/
Suppliers Engaged In Telemarketing Required To Provide Requested Information
On February 28th, the Massachusetts Commission issued a notice directing all competitive suppliers that have conducted telemarketing campaigns during 2020 to provide the following information:
- The name of each third-party vendor that conducted telemarketing on behalf of the competitive supplier during 2020, and for each vendor, all subcontractors that the vendor may have employed for the purpose of such telemarketing; and
- A statement that the competitive supplier has contacted each of the vendors identified above and that the vendor attested to the supplier that neither the vendor nor any subcontractors engaged in the types of telemarketing calls described above.
The suppliers were directed to provide specific information by March 13, 2020. This notice directing suppliers to provide the requested information was in response to the DPU learning of calls that are, "misleading and deceptive." The notice went on to say that "[t]he Department holds competitive suppliers responsible for the actions of their third-party marketing vendors. Any competitive supplier on whose behalf a vendor engaged in misleading and deceptive telemarketing calls may be subject to licensure action pursuant to 220 CMR 11.07 and the procedures established in Investigation by the Department of Public Utilities on its own Motion to Establish Interim Guidelines for Competitive Supply Formal Investigations and Proceedings, D.P.U. 16-156-A, Att. A (2017)," the DPU noted.
On January 18, 2019, the Department of Public Utilities (“Department”) opened Investigation by the Department of Public Utilities into Initiatives to Promote and Protect Consumer Interests in the Retail Electric Competitive Supply Market, D.P.U. 19-07. Subsequentially, on February 5, 2020 the Commission issued a Request For Comments
Comments Due For Tier One & Tier Two Proposals
Previously the Massachusetts DPU has sought formal comments on a variety of Department staff proposals concerning retail energy supplier marketing, enrollment, and licensing rules, in its ongoing retail market investigation in Docket 19-07. Most recently the Department issued the Tier One initiatives for comment due by March 5th, for possible Department Order and Tier Two initiatives have also been issued for comment by March 19th, for further consideration of next steps. Note that the proposals apply to both the electric and natural gas markets.
Tier One Issues
License application review: Information about pending new license applications would be posted on the Department website, and subject to a 15-business day comment period. The Department would inform an applicant within twenty days of a determination that no further information is required whether the application has been approved or denied. All material collected would be posted on the Department website.
License renewals: No proposal to post license renewal information on the Department website.
Notification of door-to-door marketing: Suppliers would be required to submit a separate door-to-door marketing notification for each day that they expect to conduct such marketing, no later than two business days prior to the applicable marketing day. Suppliers would be required to identify the municipalities where they may be marketing on the applicable day (or the neighborhoods in which they may be marketing for specified municipalities such as Boston) and whether the supplier has obtained, is working on obtaining or no permit is required. Suppliers would be limited to identifying a maximum of three municipalities per notification. Notification would also be required to be provided to the Attorney General.
Identification of third-party marketing vendors: Suppliers would be required to provide the Department, on an ongoing basis, with updated lists of third-party door-to-door and telemarketing vendors, to include information on background checks and standards of conduct that competitive suppliers currently provide through their door-to-door notifications. The information would also be required to be provided to the Attorney General. Comment is sought on whether suppliers should provide this information to other stakeholders on a confidential basis. This reporting is intended as an initial step in developing a process to identify problematic marketing vendors.
Disclosure of product information: Suppliers would be required to use a template “Staff Proposed Contract Summary Form” for all products, except:
- Products for which the price varies on a monthly basis - use language in the price and term sections that describe the applicable price structure and term of the product;
- Products for which the renewable content exceeds the minimum requirement - use language that describes the renewable resources that comprise the “voluntary” component of the product;
- Products that include fees other than an early cancellation fee or enrollment fee - include language that describes such fees; and
- Products that include additional incentives or “value-added” products and services - use language that describes such incentives. Suppliers would be required to submit contract summary forms for Department review in the listed instances. The contract summary form would be provided to customers at the point of sale.
Door-to-door and telemarketing scripts: Suppliers would be required to use introductory scripts for door-to-door and telemarketing that require identification of the name of the vendor and supplier that the vendor represents as well as that the supplier is not affiliated with the utility or a municipality energy program. "At no time during the door-to-door and telemarketing interactions shall the marketing agent identify the name of customer distribution company."
Recording of marketing interactions: Suppliers would be required to record telemarketing calls, in addition to third party verification calls.
Marketing materials: Suppliers would be required to submit updated versions of direct mail marketing materials, including the envelope, for Department review prior to the use of such materials. Direct mail marketing materials should:
- display the competitive supplier name and logo at the top of the document (thus clearly identifying the competitive supplier as the sender);
- clearly state that the competitive supplier is not affiliated with the customer’s utility;
- clearly communicate that the notice is an advertisement for the sale of a product;
- disclose pertinent information about the product(s) being marketed; and
- not use false or misleading headers or subject lines, such as “action requested” or “urgent notification about your utility bill/account.”" If the Department has not responded within ten days of receipt of the materials, the supplier may use them.
Automatic renewal: Suppliers would be required to provide customers with automatic renewal notifications between 30 and 60 days prior to the expiration of contracts that have such provisions using an automatic renewal notification template.
Competitive supplier reports: Suppliers would be required to report on a quarterly basis the number of residential customers they serve through automatic renewal provisions.
Competitive supplier enrollment reports: Suppliers would be required to report on a quarterly basis the total number of residential customers and the number of low-income customers they enrolled during the quarter through the following channels: 1) door-to-door marketing; 2) telemarketing; and 3) other marketing channels. Suppliers would be required to report on the total number of residential and low-income customers they are serving as of the last day of the quarter. The information is to be reported separately for each utility service territory.
Energy Switch website: Municipal aggregation products would be listed on a voluntary basis by the municipality. The website order of product listing would include basic service product, municipal aggregation default product, and then competitive supply products.
Tier Two Initiatives for Comment
Third Party Verification: Comment is requested on the benefits of requiring customers, during the TPV process, to affirmatively state the product information included in the contract summary form in order for a competitive supplier to proceed with enrolling the customers as well as requiring customers to identify the telephone number and name that appears on the customer’s telephone during telemarketing.
Customer account number: Utilities were requested to jointly develop a process to implement an “enroll with your wallet” approach.
Untimely Renewal Applications
Staff also proposes to establish a uniform policy regarding licensees that fail to timely submit a renewal application. If an electricity broker or natural gas agent fails to submit a renewal application within thirty days of the due date, the license would be suspended. If the renewal application were submitted within ninety days by the suspended broker/agent, the license would suspension would be lifted. If a competitive supplier fails to submit a renewal application within thirty days of the due date, the supplier’s ability to enroll new customers would be suspended. If the renewal application is submitted within ninety days from the renewal date, the suspension would be lifted.
Staff Issued “Guidance Document” Serves As Resource To ESCOs
Following the December 12, 2019 Order Adopting Changes to the Retail Access Energy Market and Establishing Further Process or the Uniform Business Practices (UBP)order, all ESCOs seeking to offer service to mass market customers will be required to submit a new retail access eligibility application form, Staff issued a “guidance document” that was provided as a resource to ESCOs in Case 15-M-0127.
No later than 30 calendar days after the effective May 11, 2020 date of the UBP, all currently operating ESCOs that wish to continue serving mass market customers must file an application in accordance with the newly modified UBP. If a currently operating ESCO fails to submit its new application within 30 days of the effective date of the UBP, it shall be immediately and automatically suspended from entering into any new agreements with customers.
A Retail Access Application Form (RAAF) and additional documents will be requested. Information and documents required to be filed by ESCOs include the typical requirements under the RAAF and UBPs, and other additions. Materials that must be filed include:
- Sample copies of mass marketing promotional materials
- A list of the entities, including contractors and sub-contractors, that will market to customers on behalf of your ESCO;
- Quality Assurance Program containing:
- Description of training program (Note whether In-person or Telephonic);
- Independent third party (TPV) verification script (UBP Section 5, Attachments 1-3);
- Code of Conduct;
- Marketing representative identification badge;
- Customer services performance monitoring program and quality assurance procedures;
- Internal customer dispute resolution procedures and processes;
- Any internal customer satisfaction metrics, to the extent the ESCO has any.
- Complaint history, including individual complaint narrative and ultimate resolution, for the past two years for the ESCO's New York operations;
- Complaint history, including individual complaint narrative and ultimate resolution, for the past two years for other jurisdictions the ESCO operates in; and
- Information regarding enforcement actions in other jurisdictions over the past two years
PUCO Directs Competitive Energy Suppliers to Halt Door-to-Door, In-Person Marketing
COLUMBUS, OHIO (March 17, 2020) – The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) issued an order directing Ohio’s competitive natural gas and electric providers to halt door-to-door and in-person marketing to avoid unnecessary social contact.
Customers of PUCO-regulated electric and natural gas utilities continue to have the option to enroll with a competitive supplier of their choosing. The PUCO maintains its Energy Choice Website at www.energychoice.ohio.gov to allow customers to compare offers from competitive suppliers.
Utility customers who have questions or concerns regarding their utility service are encouraged to contact the PUCO online at PUCO.ohio.gov/contact-us.
A copy of today’s entry is available on the PUCO website by clicking the link to the docketing information system (DIS) and searching for case 20-591-AU-UNC.
PUCO Initiates Inquiry Into Electric Vehicle Charging Providers
On February 26, 2020, in Case No. 20-0434-EL-COI the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio opened an inquiry into the regulation of electric vehicle charging providers.
PUCO stated, "The Commission notes that Staff has consistently taken the position that entities which provide electric vehicle charging service are neither electric light companies nor public utilities in this state. However, the Commission has never been presented with this issue. Accordingly, the Commission seeks comments on whether any person, firm, co-partnership, voluntary association, joint-stock association, company, or corporation, wherever organized or incorporated, which is providing Electric Vehicle charging service in this state, is 'engaged in the business of supplying electricity for light, heat, or power purposes to consumers within this state.”
Switch Block Mechanism Rejected
As reported by Energy Choice Matters, on February 26, 2020 in 17-1842-EL-ORD , the Commission adopts amendments to Ohio Adm.Code Chapter 4901:1-10 regarding the Commission’s rules for electrical safety and service standards. Of note to the competitive retail electric suppliers, the Commission declined to adopt Staff’s switch block mechanism.
Staff had proposed that, "[e]ach electric utility shall allow any customer to request a competitive retail electric service provider block be placed on their account. The block shall prevent the customer generation service provider from being switched without the customer’s authorization to the electric utility in the form of a customer provided code or other customer identifiable manner. The release shall be provided to the electric utility from the customer or other authorized persons on the account. The code shall be considered confidential customer information."
However, after reviewing the matter the Commission decided, “[u]pon review of all comments offered, the Commission declines to adopt Staff’s proposal to include a CRES provider switching block and agrees that current consumer protections are adequate. Exhaustive procedures are already in place to prevent CRES provider abuses, such as slamming (e.g., R.C. 4928.10; Ohio Adm.Code 4901:1-10- 21(H) and 4901:1-21-08(C)). Also, consumers can register for the national “Do Not Call Registry” to prevent unwanted telemarketing calls from CRES providers or can request that the electric utility exclude their names from mass customer lists made available to CRES providers. Finally, and in response to AEP Ohio’s, OCC’s, and OPAE’s concerns, we have already provided consumers with several layers of protections designed to prevent unwanted CRES provider switching during different stages of the sales process, such as third-party verification following in-person sales and contract rescission periods. The above regulations were specifically targeted towards the protection of vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and disabled, and we believe the rules strike an adequate balance between protecting these populations and allowing for fair competition. Therefore, the proposed additional protection is unnecessary."
In addition, the Commission order also denied Staff’s proposal prohibiting the billing of non-commodity goods or services from a third party on utility bills. Specifically, the draft rules would have provided that, "[no consolidated bill format shall contain charges for non-commodity goods or services from a thirty party of the EDU."
PUCO rejected this proposal, and instead adopted a new term, "non-jurisdictional service," which means services which do not meet the definition of 'retail electric service' set forth in division (A)(27) of section 4928.01 of the Revised Code.
Under the order the EDUs will not be required to bill for the non-jurisdictional services of retail suppliers, but if so, elected by the EDU then such billing must be done on a nondiscriminatory basis. "To promote competition and fairness between all parties, the Commission has adopted amended subsection (A) to include the following sentence at the end of that provision, 'An electric utility cannot discriminate or unduly restrict a customer’s CRES provider from including non-jurisdictional charges on a consolidated electric bill.' The EDU must allow the customer’s CRES provider, on an open and nondiscriminatory basis, access to the consolidated bill to list non-jurisdictional service charges," PUCO said.
Dominion Energy Ohio’s Monthly Variable Rate (MVR) Plan Eliminated
In a press release the Ohio Commission announced it has approved a settlement agreement in 18-1419-GA-EXM, modifying how Dominion Energy Ohio’s customers who do not enroll with a competitive supplier or government aggregation program are charged for natural gas.
“The terms of this settlement provide for a creative process which will not only introduce price rationalization into one segment of the market, but also will promote further general enhancement of the competitive market consistent with state policy,” said PUCO Commissioner Larry Friedeman. “More importantly, the market dynamics will better serve the interest of consumers.”
Under the terms of the settlement, Dominion will eliminate its monthly variable rate (MVR) plan for all customers. The standard choice offer (SCO) will be the default rate for choice-eligible residential and non-residential customers using 200 Mcf or less annually. The monthly retail rate (MRR) program will be the default service for customers using more than 200 Mcf annually. The MRR price will be calculated each month using competitive offers from qualified MRR suppliers.
The press release identified additional terms of the settlement include:
- Non-residential customers, using 200-500 Mcf annually, may select the SCO, an option previously unavailable.
- Dominion will notify customers currently served by the MVR and transfer them to either the SCO or MRR.
- Energy choice suppliers must meet a set of criteria before being authorized to serve MRR customers.
- Dominion, PUCO staff and stakeholders will work through a collaborative process to educate Dominion customers regarding the changes and energy choice options in Ohio.
- Within three years, Dominion, PUCO staff and stakeholders will evaluate the MRR program.
PUCO Approves Settlement Between Verde Energy and PUCO Staff
In Case 19-0958-GE-COI (pdf), the Public Utility Commission of Ohio (“UCO”) approved a settlement reached between Verde Energy USA Ohio, LLC d/b/a Verde Energy and PUCO Staff. Based on alleged sales and marketing practices, Verde agrees to the following:
- Pay $675,000 and to cease all marketing and customer enrollment activities in Ohio for 18 months
- Cease to participate withdraw from Dominion’s MVR program for a period of one year.
- Re-rate customer rates that will result in refunds of approximately $1,068,000 for all retail electric residential customers enrolled by Verde Energy in Ohio from October 1, 2018 through April 30, 2019.
- Agree to cancel any customer contracts without penalty.
- Submit a proposed compliance plan at least ninety (90) days prior to resuming marketing in the State of Ohio.
Among other things, Staff alleged that, "Verde used inaccurate caller identification information indicating to customers that Verde's outgoing calls are instead originating from Duke Energy Ohio, AEP Ohio, and/or the Internal Revenue Service, a practice also known as spoofing, in violation of Ohio Adm.Code 4901:1-21-03(A), 4901:1-21-05(C)(8)(h), 4901:1-21-05(C)(10), 4901:1-29- 03(A), 4901:1-29-05(D), and 4901:1-29-10(A)."
Staff also alleged that, "Verde sales representatives provided misleading information during telemarketing solicitations, in violation of Ohio Adm.Code 4901:1-21-03(A), 4901:1-21-04,4901:1-21- 05(C), 4901:1-29-03(A), 4901:1-29-05(D), and 4901:1-29-10(A), and which did not follow the sales script Verde provided to Staff."
Due To COVID-19 - All D2D Marketing Is Temporarily Prohibited
The Pennsylvania PUC Chairman Brown Dutrieuille issued an Emergency Order, in response to the coronavirus, prohibiting electric generation and natural gas suppliers from engaging in door-to-door, public event and in-person sales and marketing activities.
Specifically, the Emergency Order states,
“I find that issuance of an energy order is appropriate under these unique circumstances where the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Nation, and the world, is dealing with a highly infectious virus. Due to this unprecedented emergency, I find that door-to-door, public event and any in-person sales and marketing of competitive energy supply is not a necessity at this time given the need to protect the health and the safety of the public, both customers and persons employed by suppliers, by minimizing unnecessary social contacts. This is especially the case under the current challenges that resulted in the Proclamation of a pandemic emergency.
Therefore, all-electric generation suppliers and natural gas suppliers subject to the Commission’s jurisdiction are prohibited from engaging in any door-to-door, public event and in-person sales and marketing activities during the pendency of the Proclamation of Disaster Emergency, or unless otherwise directed by the Commission.”
PA PUC Approves Final Electric Rulemaking Order
On February 27th, in Docket L-2017-2628991 the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) approved final electric supplier rulemaking rules applicable to residential and small commercial customers. The rules, among other things include new electric supplier price disclosures.
In its press release, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) announced that it has approved a final rulemaking intended to increase consumer protections and ensure greater price transparency in the competitive retail electricity market.
Specifically, the Commission adopted final regulations to Chapter 54 of the Public Utility Code regarding customer information, including electric generation supplier (EGS) disclosure statements for residential and small business customers. The revised rules are intended to provide customers with accurate, timely pricing information when they are shopping for electric service from EGSs.
Among other things, as outlined in the press release, the rulemaking revises several rules regarding electricity generation customer choice, including:
- A ban on early termination fees during the final month of an expiring contract. This will allow residential and small commercial customers the freedom to shop for a new supplier during the final month of their contract with their current supplier without fear of incurring early termination fees.
- Requirements that EGSs display their prices in a format that allows for easier price comparisons.
- Requirements that any introductory price be clearly identified and explained to the customer and disclose both the introductory price and the price after the introductory period expires.
- Requirements to provide more information about variable prices and time-of-use products.
- Use of common, consistent terminology by EGSs in their customer communications, including marketing, billing and disclosure statements.
- Simplifying the format of customer contract summaries that customers receive with their full EGS disclosure statement.
Procedurally, the Law Bureau will submit this Order, Attachment A and Annex A for review by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission and the Legislative Standing Committees, the Office of Attorney General for review and approval and the Governor’s Budget Office for review for fiscal impact. Then the Law Bureau shall deposit this Order, Attachment A and Annex A with the Legislative Reference Bureau to be published as final in the Pennsylvania Bulletin whereby the final regulations shall become effective 60 days after publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin.
House Resolution Would Require Study of Retail Electric Choice
The South Carolina House has passed a joint resolution (H 4940) that would require the creation of an Electricity Market Reform Measures Study Committee to study electricity market reforms, including examination of "full" retail electric choice. If approved, the resolution provides that, by January 12, 2021, the study committee shall issue a report on its work to the General Assembly. Stay tuned for action in the Senate!
Mark Your Calendar
ERCOT has scheduled a workshop to discuss shortening Settlements timeline. The workshop is scheduled for Tuesday, May 5, 2020, beginning at 1:00 PM at the Austin Met Center location and agenda, materials and WebEx information will be posted on the Settlements Timeline Workshop meeting page.
Virginia Clean Economy Act Awaits Governor’s Signature
On March 6, 2020 an amended version of the Virginia Clean Economy Act passed the House and Senate and is now awaiting Governor Northam’s signature. This landmark HB1526. bill aims to make Virginia zero carbon by 2050.
The final version of the Virginia Clean Economy Act includes provisions to expand rooftop solar, including the expansion of net metering, power purchase agreements, the inclusion of rooftop solar in the mandatory RPS, mandatory investments to provide rooftop solar to low-income families, and increased project size limits for business and residential projects.
In addition, HB1526 authorizes an expanded pilot program for third party power purchase agreements for solar and wind-powered generation up to 500 megawatts for Virginia jurisdictional customers and 500 megawatts for Virginia nonjurisdictional customers. The bill also provides that after July 1, 2020, at least 35% of energy storage facilities shall be purchased by the public utility from a party other than the public utility or owned by a party other than the public utility, with the capacity sold to the public utility.
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