PUC Authorizes Utility To Study Providing Retail Suppliers With Lists Of Customers Paying Highest Retail Supplier Rates; Imposes Conditions (Including Recording Of Entire Sales Call)
PUC Adopts Retail Market Billing Enhancements, Addresses Other Retail Market Issues In Settlement Approval
August 28, 2019 Email This Story Copyright 2010-19 EnergyChoiceMatters.com
Reporting by Paul Ring • email@example.com
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The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio approved without modification a rate case settlement at Vectren Energy Delivery of Ohio, Inc. (VEDO) that includes a provision requiring the study of the feasibility of providing to retail suppliers lists of customers who pay the highest rates to their retail supplier
While PUCO did not modify the settlement, PUCO did impose conditions on the provision of such highest rate customer lists, if Vectren in the future elects to provide such lists
As exclusively first reported by EnergyChoiceMatters.com, under the now adopted stipulation, Vectren agrees to review the feasibility (including the availability of company IT resources and compliance with regulatory requirements), cost, including cost-effectiveness, and prudence of including in customer lists, or otherwise providing Choice Suppliers, as defined in Vectren’s tariff, a list of choice customers whose current commodity rates are in the top twenty-five (25) percent of all Choice customer rates.
Vectren agrees to conduct this review within 90 days of the approval of the Stipulation and to share and discuss Vectren’s review with Signatory Parties and other interested parties. Actual customer rates will not be included in the lists.
Customers that opt-out of inclusion in the customer lists available to Choice Suppliers pursuant to Vectren’s tariff will be excluded from any lists that may ultimately be provided in accordance with this provision.
To the extent determined feasible, cost-effective, and prudent, Vectren will review the estimated cost and work required to make the lists available to Choice Suppliers and will provide that information to Signatory Parties and other interested parties. Costs associated with this provision shall be recovered through the customer list fee, and to the extent such fees do not cover the incremental costs associated with the provision of the top twenty five percent list, Vectren has no obligation to implement this provision unless the requesting Choice Supplier pays for any incremental costs. To the extent that the top twenty-five percent list is not includable in the customer list, Vectren has no obligation to implement such provision unless the requesting Choice Suppliers pay for any incremental costs.
With respect to the provision for the Top 25% List, PUCO said that, "the Commission shares the
concerns of OCC that this potential new sales tool may be vulnerable to misuse or, worse,
As such, PUCO imposed conditions on the use of the list. Notably, for all sales made to a customer on the list, the "full sales call" must be recorded, as noted further below
"While we acknowledge the downward
price pressure which may be brought to bear on the market and applaud the effort to
introduce competitive price discipline into the market, the purpose of this potential sales
tool can be realized only if its implementation serves to clarify and educate rather than
confuse and obfuscate. However, we also acknowledge that this provision was part of a
settlement package containing compromises on various issues by parties representing a wide variety of stakeholders. Therefore, instead of modifying the Stipulation in order to
eliminate this potential sales tool, we will take steps, outside of the Stipulation, to ensure
that retail customers are properly protected and that retail sales resulting from this new
avenue are carefully and properly monitored," PUCO said
"Therefore, if VEDO proceeds with the implementation of the Top 25% List,
VEDO must file an application to amend its supplier tariffs with, at a minimum, the
following terms and conditions. The tariff amendments shall require each CRNGS supplier
who uses the Top 25% List for marketing and solicitation to keep records for all sales made
from soliciting customers on the Top 25% List. These records shall include the customer
name, address, account number, contract price, contract term, type of contract (i.e., fixed,
variable, introductory, or other appropriate description), and termination fee, if any, as well
as a recording of the full sales call, direct mail solicitation, or other form of solicitation, as
applicable. The tariff amendments shall require that all of these records shall be made
available to Staff by the CRNGS supplier upon request, and any failure to timely respond to
such request by Staff will be grounds to terminate the CRNGS supplier’s participation in the
Top 25% List program. Further, the tariff amendment shall require each CRNGS supplier
to provide VEDO monthly the names, account numbers, and dates of enrollment of those
customers appearing on the Top 25% List identified by date or other effective list identifier
who have accepted an offer made by the CRNGS supplier; and, VEDO shall attach to each
customer’s record the rate charged which placed the customer on the applicable Top 25%
List. VEDO will also make these records available to the Staff upon request. VEDO shall
keep all of these records confidential, and if a CRNGS supplier indicates that any
information such as price or other term or condition is confidential, VEDO shall note that
confidentiality claim on any records provided to Staff. Staff will maintain the confidentiality
of such records in accordance with usual Commission practice," PUCO ordered
"Finally, the Commission notes that we have approved this new sales avenue
as a demonstration project, subject to future review by the Staff and stakeholders as to
whether, as implemented, the benefits to customers outweigh the risks. It is not our intent that this potential new sales tool be replicated by the other Ohio gas utilities and electric
distribution utilities, and, until the results in VEDO’s service area have been thoroughly
reviewed, we will scrutinize any future requests to implement a similar new sales avenue
as part of any other utility’s choice program," PUCO said
Utility Call Transfers, Customer Communication With SCO Supplier
The settlement included a provision to facilitate customer communication with their SCO Supplier
Vectren agrees to continue its coordination with Standard Choice Offer (SCO) Suppliers and customers served under the SCO.
To this end, Vectren agrees that its call center will transfer a call from an SCO customer to its SCO Supplier, or identify the relevant SCO Supplier contact information for the SCO customer, when in Vectren’s reasonable discretion Vectren determines that the SCO customer has specific questions with respect to or in relation to the SCO and that it is reasonable under the circumstances of the call to either transfer the call or direct the SCO customer to the applicable SCO Supplier. PUCO Staff shall inquire whether SCO suppliers are currently sending welcome letters to customers as required. Staff shall provide the results of its inquiry to signatory parties.
PUCO did not modify this provision, but again imposed conditions on the process, including a record-keeping requirement for suppliers, and that suppliers maintain a "recording of the full sales call" for any customers transferred under this process
"With respect to the call transfer provision, we agree that this poses minimal
risks to customers as it is a continuation of current practice. However, there is little evidence in the record of protections for consumers in this current practice. Although we will not modify the Stipulation to restrict this provision, the
Commission finds that VEDO can take two proactive steps in order to monitor this practice," PUCO said
"First, VEDO should log each call transferred to an SCO supplier, including the name,
customer account number, and address of each customer transferred, as well as a summary
of the issue or question which the VEDO representative was unable to address. The
Commission will not prescribe the manner in which VEDO maintains these records;
however, these records should be maintained in a manner in which this information can be
readily provided to the Staff upon request, and VEDO should provide Staff with a quarterly
report of all calls transferred to SCO suppliers that includes all information set forth above," PUCO said
"Second, within 90 days after the issuance of this Opinion and Order, VEDO should file an
application to amend its supplier coordination tariff. These amendments must include
provisions which require SCO suppliers to maintain records of customer sales where the
solicitation is made directly following any customer call transferred to the SCO supplier by
VEDO. We will clarify that a solicitation is made 'directly' if the representative of the SCO
supplier to whom the call is transferred either: makes the solicitation or transfers the
customer to a sales representative or agent who makes the solicitation. These records shall
include the customer name, address, account number, contract price, contract term, type of
contract (i.e., fixed, variable, introductory, or other appropriate description), and
termination fee, if any, as well as a recording of the full sales call. The tariff amendments
shall require that all of these records shall be made available to Staff by the SCO supplier
upon request. In addition, the tariff amendments shall require each SCO supplier to provide
a monthly report to VEDO on the number of sales made following the transfer of a call under
this provision, and VEDO shall provide Staff with a quarterly report including the number
of sales, by SCO supplier, made each quarter following the transfer of a customer call," PUCO said
Exit the Merchant Function Discussion
Under the adopted settlement, Vectren agrees to meet periodically with interested parties to discuss in good faith an exit of the merchant function. Vectren agrees to participate in the first of these interested party meetings within 120 days of the approval of the Stipulation and at least three times annually thereafter until the earlier of the filing of an application to exit the merchant function or the filing of Vectren’s next rate case. Notwithstanding any provision of the Stipulation to the contrary, Vectren agrees to participate in these meetings with interested parties regardless of the outcome of the Commission’s review of the Stipulation.
PUCO said that, "our
approval of this provision should not be construed to: require VEDO to file an application
to exit the merchant function; restrict the position taken by the Staff in these discussions or
in the event an application is filed; indicate support by the Commission for the filing of an
application to exit the merchant function or for VEDO to exit the merchant function; or bind
the Commission in any way in the event an application is filed by VEDO. Our decision
today approves preliminary or exploratory discussions regarding exiting the merchant
function and nothing more."
The adopted settlement also includes various provisions related to the retail market as described below:
Mandatory Assignment of Pipeline Capacity: Some capacity contracts up to 5,000 Dths/day may be released only to SCO Suppliers.
Billing Enhancements: Vectren agrees to meet periodically with interested parties and to discuss in good faith billing enhancements for which implementation and/or resolution will support the policies enumerated in R.C. 4929.02. Vectren agrees to participate in the first of these interested party meetings within 120 days of the approval of the Stipulation and at least three times annually thereafter until the filing of Vectren’s next rate case. Discussions will include, but are not limited to: billing system upgrades (e.g., fixed bill through a rate-ready code, additional rate-ready billing codes, bill-ready billing, billing a rate based on NYMEX prices, plus or minus a value, permitting pre-payment of the commodity portion of the bill, and allowing a "zero price" rate-ready code), and access to more granular individual customer information (e.g., peak day information, customers’ with highest rates, plant protection level, Maximum Daily Requirement, etc.). Notwithstanding any provision of the Stipulation to the contrary, Vectren agrees to participate in these interested party meetings regardless of the outcome of the Commission’s review of the Stipulation.
Vectren also agrees to review the feasibility (including availability of Company IT resources), cost, including cost-effectiveness, and prudence of upgrading its current billing system to allow the submission by Choice Suppliers of a rate code with a zero charge for the commodity of natural gas to enable each Choice Supplier to submit a dual bill for a portion of the customers in its pool, while utilizing rate-ready billing for the remainder of the customers in its pool. Vectren agrees to share and discuss this review at the first customer choice and billing improvements issues interested party meeting. Vectren also agrees to review and share the feasibility, cost, and prudence of including this functionality in a successor billing system once such successor system is known or being developed.
Dual Billing: Vectren has dropped its proposal that would have required that dual bills be, "consistent with Company’s bill format and billing information," and that would have subjected a supplier's dual bill format to Vectren's approval prior to the issuance of any bill to customer.
Customer Peak Day Information: Vectren agrees to review the feasibility (including availability of Company IT resources, and compliance with regulatory requirements), cost, including cost-effectiveness, and prudence of providing Pool Operators with peak day information for Rate 345 and Rate 360 customers under the Company’s current and subsequent IT infrastructure as part of an electronic file, or similar approach. Within 120 days of approval of the Stipulation Vectren agrees to share and to discuss the results of its review with Signatory Parties and other interested stakeholders. If Vectren determines that such data sharing is feasible, cost-effective, and prudent, Vectren agrees to use good faith efforts to implement such a change. The sharing of such customer peak day information is also contingent on Pool Operator having or obtaining customer consent for the release of the information.
Customer Choice and Billing Upgrades in ETC Rider: The Signatory Parties acknowledge that cost recovery under the ETC Rider can include billing system upgrades described above or identified pursuant to the sections titled Customer Peak Day Information and Billing Enhancements. If an identified improvement and upgrade under those sections is determined to be feasible, cost-effective, and prudent by Vectren, Vectren shall use good faith efforts to implement the improvement before the next base distribution rate case. Operation and maintenance expenses and capital investments recoverable under the ETC Rider for such improvements are subject to an audit and an aggregate cap not to exceed $850,000. The return associated with the capital investment is not subject to the $850,000 cap. To the extent that implementation of any such improvement and upgrade would exceed the $850,000 cap, Vectren may but has no obligation to implement any such improvement or upgrade. In the event Vectren elects not to implement any improvement or upgrade as a result of the cap, it will meet with interested Signatory Parties to discuss its rationale and to discuss options for cost recovery which such options may include, but are not limited to, Vectren filing an application seeking approval for cost recovery for amounts that exceed the $850,000 cap
Other tariff changes:
City-Gate Allocation Non-Compliance Charge: The stipulation modifies an earlier proposal regarding Vectren proposed language regarding System Beneficial Deliveries and the City-Gate Allocation Non-Compliance Charge. Under the revised language, Vectren may initially "request" (rather than require) Pool Operator(s) to voluntarily: 1) vary its daily delivery from the nominated delivery quantities; 2) deliver to a different pipeline and/or city-gate; and/or 3) make other changes to gas deliveries to ensure system integrity or mitigate the risk of pipeline penalties being assessed. If voluntary delivery changes are not adequate to rectify the situation, Vectren shall change its city-gate allocation delivery requirements applicable to all Pool Operators. Failure to comply will result in Pool Operators being assessed the City-Gate Allocation Non-Compliance Charge. Requirements under this provision are distinct from OFO requirements. In the absence of exceptional circumstances, Vectren shall provide least 24 hours advance notice to Pool Operators for a change in City Gate Allocations
Utility Consolidated Billing/Dual Billing Election: Under the stipulation, suppliers may change the billing option for their pool customers (dual vs. UCB, which is applicable to all of the supplier's pool customers) by providing no less than 6 months prior written notice to Vectren, and cannot change it more frequently than once in any six month period. This reflects a modification of Vectren's original proposal which would have permitted a billing option change only once during every 36-month period, with notice of three months required for such change.