Pa. PUC Rejects Utility's Plan To Continue Providing 'On-Bill' Non-Commodity Billing Service To Select Non-Supplier Third Parties, While Denying Access To Retail Suppliers
PUC Says Utility's Plan In "Direct Conflict" With Prior PUC Order On Bill Access; Continuation Until 2023 "Unacceptable"
PUC Sets End Date For Practice
August 8, 2019 Email This Story Copyright 2010-19 EnergyChoiceMatters.com
Reporting by Paul Ring • email@example.com
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The Pennsylvania PUC has rejected the plan filed by Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania, Inc. ("Columbia") to comply with a prior PUC directive for Columbia to report how it will comply with 66 Pa.C.S. § 1502, after the PUC previously found that Columbia's practice of providing "on-bill" billing for non-utility services to only two select providers is, "discriminatory."
Currently, Columbia’s two agreements for the provision of 'on bill' billing are with Columbia Service Partners, Inc. (CSP) and Nicor Energy Services Company (Nicor), both former affiliates of Columbia (but both of which are now unaffiliated with Columbia)
As previously reported, the PUC declined to immediately order Columbia to provide such "on-bill" billing for all retail supplier non-commodity products, as the PUC stated that reasonable limits may be required, but the PUC did direct Columbia to implement any solution in a non-discriminatory manner
Specifically, the PUC did state that Columbia must either provide such a non-commodity billing service to all entities that provide such non-basic services, or must discontinue the 'on bill' billing policy.
EnergyChoiceMatters.com had also exclusively first reported that Columbia proposed to comply with the Commission's directive, and Sections 1502 and 2203(4) of the Public Utility Code, by discontinuing its 'on-bill' billing practice; however, Columbia proposed to do so by allowing its existing contracts with the two providers who have access to on-bill billing services to reach their end date
Specifically, Columbia proposed to continue to provide CSP with access to its bills for "on bill" billing services through the end of its current contract term with CSP in September 2019. Columbia proposed to continue to provide Nicor with access to its bills through the end of its current contract term with Nicor, which expires in January of 2023, or sooner if contractually feasible
The Pennsylvania PUC found Columbia's plan to continue to offer the on-bill non-commodity billing service to the two selected providers to be in "direct conflict" with the Commission’s direction in the December 6 Order
"We find that Columbia’s proposal to end its 'on bill' billing practice by allowing the two existing 'on bill' contracts with CSP and Nicor to expire at their contractual end dates or sooner if contractually feasible is contrary to our direction in the December 6 Order and is therefore, rejected," the PUC said
The PUC reiterated that it is "discriminatory" for Columbia to afford the option of 'on bill' billing for goods and services to the two selected providers, but to deny the same billing option to retail suppliers.
"We reiterate that in the December 6 Order, we directed Columbia to either provide access to the 'on bill' billing service to all entities that provide such non-basic services or discontinue the 'on bill' billing policy. The December 6 Order is clear in its directive that Columbia may not continue to provide this 'on bill' billing service to only CSP and Nicor. Therefore, Columbia’s proposal to continue this discriminatory, unreasonable and unjustified 'on bill' billing practice until the conclusion of the current contract terms is in direct conflict with the Commission’s direction in the December 6 Order," the PUC said
"Columbia’s plan to continue this discriminatory, unreasonable and unjustified practice until January 2023 is unacceptable," the PUC said
The PUC said that, "The only reason Columbia gave for continuing its discriminatory practice was to 'avoid legal repercussions and associated costs that could result from any possible breach of either or both of these contracts...' Reply at 5. Columbia does not quantify any of the 'legal repercussions' or associated costs that could occur nor show how those repercussions or costs would harm its ratepayers or even impact the ratepayers. We find the reasons given by Columbia to be vague, speculative and amount to not more than a mere trace of evidence or a suspicion of a fact and, accordingly, insufficient to meet its burden to show that continuing its 'on bill' billing practice is now just and reasonable. Accordingly, we find that Columbia’s plan to continue its current 'on bill' billing practice until January 2023 to be discriminatory, unreasonable and unjustified. Since we find that the 'on bill' billing service, as currently implemented, to be discriminatory, unreasonable and unjustified, Columbia shall end this practice in accordance with this Order."
The PUC directed Columbia to end its 'on bill' billing practice for CSP and Nicor within two customer bill cycles or the end of the contracts, whichever comes first
The PUC explained that, "We recognize that there may be some administrative functions that Columbia, CSP and Nicor must perform to notify customers of the change in billing for these services and to begin billing for the services through other means. We also recognize that the CSP contract ends September 2019."
"[I]n order to minimize potential customer confusion regarding the removal of the information from the bills and where to remit subsequent payments, we direct Columbia to end its 'on bill' billing practice for CSP and Nicor within two customer bill cycles or the end of the contracts, whichever comes first," the PUC ordered