July 19, 2019
New Chair Named to California Commission
The California Governor appoints Marybel Batjer as President of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). Most recently Batjer was secretary of the California Government Operations Agency.
$750,000 Civil Penalty Levied Against Supplier
The Connecticut PURA in Docket 10-06-18RE02 issued a $750,000 civil penalty on Spark Energy, LLC for a pre-recorded telemarketing message used by a subcontractor hired by the supplier. The Commission found among other things that "Spark has failed to comply with the provisions of Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 16-245(g)(2), 16-254o(h)(1), 16-245o(h)(2)(A), 16-245o(h)(3), 16-245o(h)(4), 16-245o(j) and 42-110b by utilizing a pre-recorded message that (1) never identified that identifies Spark as the entity conducting the telemarketing, (2) represented to customers that the solicitation call is from an electric distribution company, (3) never explained the purpose of the sales call, which was to have customers enroll in a supply contract with Spark, (4) misstated the electric distribution company’s current charges; and not directly training its third-party agents."
Revisions to Price to Compare
On June 3rd, the Office of Retail Market Development (ORMD) filed with the Commission in Docket 18-0623 its recommended revisions to the Price to Compare (PTC) information included on customer electric bills. These recommendations were based on comments received from workshop participants. See report here: Staff Report
ORMD said that parties generally agreed that a more prominent display of the PTC would be achieved by including a short disclosure on page 1 of ComEd’s bill in the "supply" section. This short disclosure would direct customers to the PTC information displayed more fully on page 2 of the bill. In addition, Staff recommends that the following language should be outlined in red: "For more in information, see '’Price to Compare' on reverse side."
Reminder - Maryland Telephone Solicitation Act Requires Telemarketing Calls to Obtain Wet Signature
The Maryland Telephone Solicitation Act requires that customers of various industries solicited via telephone must sign a written agreement to create a valid contract. While there are certain exceptions to the wet signature requirement, these exceptions do not generally apply to telemarketing calls.
Among other things, the Maryland Telephone Solicitations Act, Md. Code Ann. Com. Law § 14-2201 et seq., provides that, "[a] contract made pursuant to a telephone solicitation ... [s]hall be reduced to writing and signed by the consumer."
Such contract shall, "contain, in at least 12-point type, immediately preceding the signature, the following statement: 'You are not obligated to pay any money unless you sign this contract and return it to the seller.'"
The contract shall also, "contain the name, address, and telephone number of the seller, the total price of the contract, and a detailed description of the goods or services being sold."
In Case 8738, the PSC has earlier affirmed that the interaction of the Telephone Solicitations Act controls the telemarketing activities of retail energy marketing activities. Moreover, in Order No. 75949, the PSC held that, "§ 14-2203 of the Commercial Law Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland and applicable federal consumer protection statutes will govern telephone contracting for electric service in Maryland."
And in Order No. 76110, in response to a request for clarification, the PSC noted the various exemptions in the Telephone Solicitations Act that do not require the use of a wet signature. Specifically, the PSC noted that it required disclosure of the information required for an exemption contained in § 14-2202(5)(i), (ii), and (iii) in all supplier ads except "image advertisements."
Exceptions to the Maryland Telephone Solicitations Act do not apply to a transaction:
(1) Made in accordance with prior negotiations in the course of a visit by the consumer to a merchant operating a retail business establishment which has a fixed permanent location and where consumer goods are displayed or offered for sale on a continuing basis;
(2) In which the person making the solicitation or the business enterprise for which the person is calling:
(i) Has made a previous sale to the consumer; or
(ii) Has a preexisting business relationship with the consumer;
(3) Which is covered by the provisions of Subtitle 3 of this title (relating to door to door sales);
(4) In which:
(i) The consumer may obtain a full refund for the return of undamaged and unused goods to the seller within 7 days of receipt by the consumer; and
(ii) The seller will process the refund within 30 days of receipt of the returned merchandise by the consumer;
(5) In which the consumer purchases goods or services pursuant to an examination of a television, radio, or print advertisement or a sample, brochure, catalogue, or other mailing material of the merchant that contains:
(i) The name, address, and telephone number of the merchant;
(ii) A description of the goods or services being sold; and
(iii) Any limitations or restrictions that apply to the offer; or
(6) In which the merchant is a bona fide charitable organization as defined in § 6-101 of the Business Regulation Article.
Massachusetts Energy Switch Workshop Scheduled
The Massachusetts DPU's retail market investigation proceeding (19-07) will hold a meeting on July 31, 2019 to discuss improvements in "Energy Switch" shopping website. This workshop will include a discussion on municipal aggregation products.
Draft Rules Recommend Utility to Place “Switch Block” On Customer Account
In 17-1842-EL-ORD (pdf), Staff of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio has issued proposed revisions to its electric service rules. The draft rules include a provision that would allow customers to request a “switch block” on their account. The Commission directs all interested persons to file comments no later than August 16, 2019, and reply comments no later than August 30, 2019 regarding the Commission’s review of Ohio Adm.Code Chapter 4901:1-10, its rules regarding minimum electric service standards for investor-owned electric utilities and transmission owners electronically filed by Docketing Staff.
Under the draft, "Each electric utility shall allow any customer to request a competitive retail electric service supplier block be placed on their account. The block would require the customer’s authorization to the electric utility via a customer provided code or other customer identifiable manner. The code shall be considered confidential customer information.
The draft rules would also provide that, "No consolidated bill format shall contain charges for non-commodity goods or services from a thirty party of the EDU."
Supplier Agrees To $250,000 Settlement
In National Gas & Electric (NG&E or Company) has agreed to settlement of $250,000 with Staff of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to resolve alleged violations. detailed in a Staff Notice of Probable Non-Compliance dated September 11, 2018.
The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio adopted, without substantive modification relating to retail market issues, a stipulation at the FirstEnergy Ohio EDCs addressing grid modernization that includes, among other things, the installation of 700,000 advanced meters in the EDCs' service territories.
Third-Party Verification Waiver Granted
In CASE NO. 18-371-EL-WVR and CASE NO. 18-372-GA-WVR the Ohio Public Utility Commission grants AEP Energy, Inc.’s request for a waiver of Ohio Adm.Code 4901:1-21-06(D)(1)(h) and 4901:1-29-06(D)(6)(b), which require an independent third-party verification by telephone to ensure the validity of a customer enrollment that occurs through door-to-door solicitation. Read the Order (pdf)..
New Law Bans Residential Automatic Renewals
The Rhode Island Governor signs S 399 bill banning auto-renewal of residential retail electric contracts.
On and after August 1, 2019, retail energy supplier shall be allowed to automatically renew or cause to be automatically renewed a contract with a residential customer. A new contract with a residential customer shall be required if the terms for electric generation services change from variable to fixed rates, fixed to variable rates, or to a different fixed rate. Among other requirements the new law requires:
- Written renewal notices must be sent to customers on all product types and shall list the specific expiration date.
- Residential customers must be provided ability to cancel electricity service electronically, as well as an alternative method for customers without Internet access.
- The contract shall include the methods by which a customer may cancel service, which shall include electronic termination of an existing consumer’s service agreement prior to the consumer’s next bill read date so long as the request to disenroll has been made at least seven (7) calendar days in advance of the next bill read date. The electronic termination shall be provided in a clear and conspicuous location on the retail supplier's website, and a method by which a customer without internet access may cancel service
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