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Retail Supplier Seeks Suspension Of Procedural Schedule Reviewing Whether To Transfer All Hardship Customers To Default Service

March 22, 2019

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Copyright 2010-19 EnergyChoiceMatters.com
Reporting by Paul Ring • ring@energychoicematters.com

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Counsel for Direct Energy Business, LLC and Direct Energy Services, LLC ('Direct Energy') requested that the Connecticut PURA suspend the current procedural schedule, pending a Status Conference, in the proceeding reviewing whether to place all hardship customers on standard service

As first exclusively reported by EnergyChoiceMatters.com, the Connecticut PURA opened a Docket 18-06-02 for a review of the feasibility, costs, and benefits of placing certain customers on standard service pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 16-245o(m). The General Statutes of Connecticut §16-245o(m) permits the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (Authority) to initiate a docket to review the feasibility, costs and benefits of placing on standard service all customers of all electric suppliers (1) who are hardship cases for purpose of subdivision (3) of subsection (b) of section 16-262c, (2) having moneys due and owing deducted from such customer bills by the electric distribution company pursuant to subdivision (4) of subsection (b) of section 16-262c, (3) receiving other financial assistance from an electric distribution company, or (4) who are otherwise protected by law from shutoff of electricity services. The statute permits the Authority in a final decision to order all such customers to be placed on standard service

Counsel for Direct Energy noted the docket was opened on the Authority’s own motion on May 15, 2018.

Counsel for Direct Energy noted that the Office of Consumer Counsel has issued five sets of data-intensive interrogatories beginning in October 2018, the latest of which was issued earlier this month.

On February 27, 2019, the OCC filed approximately seventy-five pages of pre-filed testimony in addition to seventy-five pages of exhibits. As exclusively reported by EnergyChoiceMatters.com, OCC said in such testimony that, from October 2016 through September 2018, hardship customers on competitive retail supply paid $7.2 million more than they would have under default service. See our prior story for more details on OCC's testimony

Counsel for Direct Energy stated, "As a preliminary matter, the schedule in this proceeding remains unnecessarily accelerated. As discussed in Direct Energy’s February 5, 2018 letter to the Authority, Docket 18-06-02 has been opened as an uncontested case with no statutory deadline requiring that the Authority issue a final decision by a date certain. OCC has prepared its voluminous pre-filed testimony over several months. In order to fully consider and analyze the advocacy arguments presented on behalf of the OCC, Participants in this proceeding are preparing to issue discovery to the OCC as well as supplemental requests to the EDCs. The information is necessary to objectively evaluate OCC’s conclusions and prepare an appropriate response. For example, as discussed at the February 21, 2019 Technical Meeting, the EDCs designate certain customers in their various systems as hardship accounts, but that designation is not transmitted to licensed electric suppliers. In other words, licensed electric suppliers do not know whether a potential customer is a hardship customer at the time of enrollment or whether a current customer becomes a hardship customer after enrollment. Further discovery is required in order to fully understand the scope of and any impact on Connecticut hardship customers, and to either validate or counter OCC’s conclusions. Moreover, the additional discovery will provide a more complete record from which the Authority can assess and render a full and informed decision."

Counsel for Direct Energy stated, "This proceeding was opened 'to review the feasibility, costs and benefits of transferring to standard service all ‎customers referred to in Conn. Gen. Stat. §16-245o(m)...' OCC’s pre-filed testimony focuses almost exclusively on its interpretation of the costs, as constructed from its own interrogatories. To date, no discovery or discussion about the feasibility or benefits of placing these customers on utility Standard Service has been proffered. Fundamental issues, such as the invalidation of a legitimate contract to which the Authority is not a party, the timing and mechanics of any customer transfer, and the impact of EDC Standard Service procurement practices remain unexplored and not part of the record. Additionally, Authority staff has not issued any interrogatories to OCC or the EDCs, should they wish to do so." [emphasis by Direct Energy omitted]

Counsel for Direct Energy stated, "Finally, the solution proffered by OCC – the end of retail choice for a socioeconomic class of customers – is not the only remedy available to the Authority in this proceeding. If the evidence to be established in the record demonstrates that certain suppliers are unfairly targeting Connecticut hardship customers, then the Authority should initiate investigations of those suppliers. Excluding the entire segment from the competitive market is an unnecessarily extreme response to issues that could be better resolved through a more targeted or balanced regulatory approach. Moreover, it will materially impact a considerable number of hardship customers currently on third-party supply that are enjoying a savings benefit and potentially force them to return to utility standard service, thus eliminating their right to choose."

Counsel for Direct Energy stated, "In conclusion, Direct Energy respectfully submits that the current schedule does not allow for sufficient time to gather and review the evidence necessary for the participants to effectively prepare and the Authority to effectively adjudicate the issues that are the basis for this proceeding. Principles of fundamental fairness require that Participants be given sufficient opportunity to issue discovery and to offer direct and rebuttal testimony on all of the core issues in this proceeding prior to any hearing."

Counsel for Direct Energy stated, "Direct Energy requests that instead of engaging in an unnecessary exchange of motions, the Authority suspend the current schedule pending a Status Conference. Status Conferences serve as a vehicle whereby the participants or their representatives can filter the ‎issues for adjudication, and establish a process for discovery and hearings in order to make the most efficient use of Authority time and resources in the adjudication of this docket. Direct Energy believes this proceeding would greatly benefit from a Status Conference."

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