Maine lawmakers eye new protections for electricity customers

Posted Feb. 10, 2017, at 6:49 a.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — A bipartisan group of lawmakers wants to cap the price electricity resellers can charge to residential customers and limit automatic signups, after an investigative series by the Bangor Daily News that found competitive electricity providers have cost Mainers millions.

Republican Rep. Norman Higgins of Dover-Foxcroft and nine co-sponsors introduced LD 259, which would prohibit competitive electricity providers, or CEPs, from charging customers more than the default price for electricity that regulators set annually.

Higgins said in a telephone interview that the bill was in response to customers paying millions over the default price, called the standard offer.

The BDN investigation found that CEP customers, on average, could have saved about $50 million from 2012 to 2015 with the standard offer price, based on federal pricing reports.

The investigation also prompted a proposed class-action lawsuit against the state’s largest competitive electricity provider, Electricity Maine, which claims the company and its founders defrauded thousands by luring them in with low introductory rates and then automatically signing them up for higher contracts later.

An attorney for the company, its founders and new owners, denied the allegations during preliminary oral arguments in the case Tuesday.

Under state rules, when a customer’s contract expires with a competitive electricity provider, the company can renew the deal automatically unless the customer specifically opts out. Companies are allowed to send notice of renewal terms via email.

State consumer advocates argued in 2014 that customers should go back to the default power supply if they did not reply with a “yes” to the renewal notice, but competitive suppliers argued it would put them at a disadvantage against the standard offer.

Various customers told the BDN they had forgotten about their signups, and complaint logs from the Office of the Public Advocate show many customers did not know what they were signing up for.

The lawsuit against Electricity Maine alleges renewal notices “were sent from unrecognizable email addresses that went directly to customers’ spam folders” and that the company knew the emails were not being received.

LD 240, proposed by Sen. James Hamper and Rep. Nathan Wadsworth, both Republicans, would require companies to acquire a “yes” response from customers before signing them up for another year.

 

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