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Utility "Applauds" Proposed Switch-Block Mechanism

Retail Suppliers Say PUC Lacks Authority To Adopt Switch-Block

August 19, 2019

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Copyright 2010-19
Reporting by Paul Ring •

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In a Public Utility Commission of Ohio proceeding reviewing the rules applicable to electricity billing, AEP Ohio said that it, "applauds" a proposed switch-block mechanism included in the draft rules.

As exclusively first reported by in July, Staff's proposed rule revisions included a provision stating that, "Each 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."

AEP Ohio said in comments filed with PUCO that, "AEP Ohio applauds the Staff’s suggestion that customers should be able to place a block on their account. We have some customers who do not understand the customer choice process and end up switching suppliers sometimes as often as monthly. Providing a block on the account provides much needed customer protections."

AEP Ohio did propose a change, providing that the block shall prevent the customer's generation service provider from being switched, "either to a CRES or to SSO," without the customer’s authorization to the electric utility in the form of a customer provided code or other customer identifiable manner

In contrast, Ohio Edison, Cleveland Electric Illuminating, and Toledo Edison (the FirstEnergy EDCs) said that the switch block, "seems unnecessary, since a customer already has to provide his or her account number, which is considered confidential customer information, in order to enroll with a CRES provider."

"Requiring an additional step for the utility to switch the customer would place additional unnecessary burden on the distribution utility. It would also require the implementation of costly information technology implementations which are also unnecessary. Because a customer must provide his or her account number prior to enrollment, this redundant and costly addition should not be adopted," the FirstEnergy EDCs said

Retail suppliers opposed the switch block

FirstEnergy Solutions Corp. said that, "This proposed amendment is not warranted by the factual situation in Ohio where there have been virtually no reported instances of slamming." FES further said that, "The proposed amendment also fails to address governmental aggregation, is contrary to Ohio’s policy goal to encourage competition, and is not supported by any Ohio statute."

The Retail Energy Supply Association and Direct Energy said in joint comments that the proposed switch-block rule is, "unlawful".

Apart from noting that PUCO's authority is limited to the powers granted by statute, RESA and Direct specifically noted that statute expressly authorized creation by PUCO of a "Do Not Aggregate" list which allows customers to remove themselves from the pool of customers eligible to participate in opt-out governmental aggregation by registering on such list.

"Staff’s proposed rule essentially creates an opt-out mechanism for shopping customers that the legislature intended only for customers subject to aggregation. If the legislature wanted to allow a 'do not shop' list to coincide with a 'do not aggregate' list, it would have crafted legislation accordingly. It did not," RESA and Direct said

"To reiterate a point made earlier, RESA and Direct condemn slamming. A customer’s supplier should not be changed without consent. RESA and Direct support existing rules that prohibit slamming. If data shows that these rules are inadequate -- and RESA and Direct are not aware of any such data -- then RESA and Direct would like to be part of the solution. RESA and Direct cannot get behind any 'solution' until Staff provides a better explanation of the problem," RESA and Direct said

IGS Energy also opposed the switch-block mechanism as, "unnecessary and overly burdensome."

"CRES suppliers already operate under a strict set of enrollment rules provided in Ohio Adm.Code Chapter 4901:1-21. For residential customers this includes: PUCO Staff-reviewed marketing materials; contracts with specific Commission-mandated provisions; third-party verification process to complete the enrollment; advisement from the CRES provider the customer has a seven day rescission period after the EDU provides notice of the switch; and notice of the switch from the EDU and reminder of the seven day rescission period. Going forward, the customer receives a monthly utility bill that explicitly states the entity supplying their generation. Additionally, should the customer need assistance, the Commission rules provide a process for an informal compliant resolution through the PUCO Staff and a formal complaint proceeding before the Commission. Moreover, PUCO Staff has the authority to assess fines, revoke or suspend CRES certifications, and other remedial actions to protect customers. Thus, requiring an additional step in the process is simply unnecessary," IGS said

Case No. 17-1842-EL-ORD

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