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City Of Boston Asks DPU For "Full" Utility Customer List To Facilitate Mailings To Retail Supplier Customers, Who May Be "Unknowingly" Taking Service From Retail Supplier

Seeks To "Educate" Customers About Risks And Potential Responses To "Predatory Marketing" By Retail Suppliers

City Also Presses For Aggregation Approval, Suggests Process To Minimize "Uncertainty" Premium In Default Service

February 28, 2020

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Copyright 2010-20
Reporting by Paul Ring •

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The City of Boston, which is seeking approval of an opt-out municipal aggregation for electricity, has asked the Massachusetts DPU to require that Nstar provide it with a "full" list of utility customers, not only those eligible for aggregation enrollment on an opt-out basis, so that the City can "educate" customers about risks and potential responses to "predatory marketing" by retail suppliers

The City said, "The City's working group has brought attention to the prevalence of apparent predatory electricity marketing practices targeting low-income neighborhoods in the City. This concern was confirmed in reports issued by the Attorney General and in the course of the City's discussions with the Attorney General. Working group discussions have concluded that the Plan may provide an important, additional vehicle for consumer education on the risks and potential responses to the predatory marketing of electricity. The City and the working group concluded that broad consumer education efforts across all of the City's residential and small commercial customers with respect to the emerging opportunities available to City residents under the Plan would be appropriate, including by providing customer education mailings to these customers currently served by competitive supply. The City wants to take an active role to increase customer awareness, particularly in low-income neighborhoods, to the fact that many of them may be unknowingly taking electric supply service from a competitive supplier based, for example, on an action or decision taken some time ago and now forgotten and, further, that such customers may not appreciate their options or available remedies if dissatisfied with their service."

"The City expects to initiate educational outreach at a time separate and distinct from the delivery of 'opt-out' notices and hopes to secure a more 'complete' customer list from Eversource for use in mailings to be made solely for consumer educational purposes," the City said

"The City's preferred education plan would include a mailing to a wide range of customers and, as noted, such mailing will be separate and distinct from any 'opt-out' notice. The City respectfully requests the Department's Order clarifying a 'full' or more complete listing of customers be provided to the City to facilitate its planned consumer education initiative and that a more 'narrow' list also be provided for purposes of mailing any opt-out notices. The City expects that, periodically, it may elect to conduct further informational mailings to all customers and, therefore, certainty of the availability of a comprehensive mailing list should be confirmed within the Department's final Order. Given the expected input from other stakeholders in preparing educational materials and the oversight of the Department, the City would not understand any objection to such approach," the City said

The City noted that, since the Department's issuance of its final order in D.P.U. 16-10, Eversource has provided aggregation plans with 'customer lists' only for customers taking default or basic service. "Eversource has, to date, been unwilling to provide a full customer list that might effectively and more efficiently be employed solely for purposes of educational mailings, with a distinct and separate list that might later be provided for purposes of delivering opt-out notices," the City said

In D.P.U. 16-10, the DPU specifically held that competitive retail supply customers will not be included in the customer lists provided to municipal aggregations

"[T]he Department finds that customers receiving competitive supply service should be excluded from the list of eligible customers provided to municipal aggregators," the DPU said in 16-10

"Although they will not be included on the eligible customer list, competitive supply customers will be informed of the program through a municipal aggregator's general education and outreach," the DPU said in 16-10

Despite the DPU's unambiguous language, the City of Boston characterizes the 16-10 order as providing that retail supply customers "need not be included" in the customer lists, rather than, "will not be included."

The City said, "The City believes that the provision of a broader customer list is not inconsistent with the findings in D.P.U. 16-10. In D.P.U. 16-10, the Department actually found that even basic service customers that did not want their contact information shared with competitive suppliers nevertheless 'should receive sufficient information to determine whether they may benefit from participation in [a] municipal aggregation plan.' D.P.U. 16-10, p. 14 (that is, these customers should be on a list shared with plans by the utility). In D.P.U. 16-10, the Department further found that 'competitive supply customers [should] be informed of [a] program through a municipal aggregation's general education and outreach' even though they need not be included in customer 'lists' provided by the utility."

The City also urged the DPU to approve its aggregation plan, and the City submitted a proposed process to minimize any impact on basic service procurements

"The City has identified an updated approach or process that it believes would eliminate any potential 'uncertainty' premium being applied to Eversource's default or basic service procurements, but such approach does require a decision by March 31, 2020," the City said

"The City asserts that this Order date would facilitate greater certainty for wholesale suppliers bidding on basic or default service as well as the opportunity for Eversource to implement responsive adjustments to its procurement process," the City said

The City's proposed schedule is as follows:

1. The Department issues its Order approving the City's Plan not later than March 31, 2020.

2. Upon receipt of Order, the City will promptly begin an assessment of the market with goal of signing an Electric Supply Contract ('ESA') prior to Eversource's Spring 2020 basic or default service RFP process (typically initiated by early May and completed by on or near May 15), with the Plan's supply resources to facilitate a program start date of January 1, 2021.

3. The City notifies the Department and Eversource by April 30, 2020 as to whether it signed an ESA. Eversource will then be able to properly reflect this result in its Spring default or basic service RFP.

4. If the City does not sign ESA by April 30, 2020, then:

      --- the City will work in good faith to execute an ESA later in 2020 similarly for a January 1, 2021 commencement date;

      --- the City shall notify the Department and Eversource by October 30, 2020, a date that is prior to Eversource's next default or basic service procurement, as to whether it signed an ESA; and

      --- Eversource, consistent with its own recent practices, should be encouraged to undertake appropriate adjustments to its Spring or Fall default or basic service procurement process (e.g., delaying procurement a short period or procuring for a lesser load). Cf. May 20, 2019 Letter of Eversource Counsel in D.P.U. 19-BSF-C2 (where Eversource elected to vary its procurement by taking less than full requirements).

"The above approach would fully eliminate 'uncertainty' risk in the procurement of resources devoted to default or basic service assuming a start date of January 2021. The City's ability to successfully initiate Plan service without subjecting Eversource's basic or default service customers to any potential risk premium requires a final approval by March 31, 2020 and potentially appropriate responsive actions by Eversource related to its procurement," the City said

The City also said that in January 2020 the City presented Eversource with an alternative detailed proposal whereby the City would initiate its entire program on a single date, January 1, 2021, rather than a potentially confusing alternative or gradual transition over several weeks during the months of January and February. The City said that Eversource is currently reviewing this proposal.

Docket D.P.U. 19-65

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