Consumer Counsel Says COVID Emergency Should Prompt PUC To Educate Customers About "Bitter Reality" That Few Retail Supplier Offers Are Cheaper Than Default Service
Urges PUC To Tell Customers On Shopping Website That They May Pay Significantly More By Shopping For Retail Supplier
Also Asks That Utility Be Ordered To Cease Providing Customer Lists To Retail Suppliers During Pandemic
May 14, 2020 Email This Story Copyright 2010-20 EnergyChoiceMatters.com
Reporting by Paul Ring • firstname.lastname@example.org
The following story is brought free of charge to readers byEC Infosystems, the exclusive EDI provider of EnergyChoiceMatters.com
Given the economic pressures on customers from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Office of the Ohio Consumers' Counsel said that the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio should incorporate in its choice education materials the "bitter reality" that a "dwindling" number of offers from competitive retail suppliers are priced lower than the Standard Choice Offer
OCC's comments were made in a proceeding concerning emergency measures being undertaken by utility Dominion Energy Ohio in response to the pandemic (Case No. 20-600-GA-UNC).
OCC said that, "The PUCO is now inquiring into protections for consumers during this emergency. The
emergency is a time to recognize that there are not many, if any, greater opportunities for natural
gas consumers to save money than the savings that they could achieve by not entering into a
contract with a gas marketer at a rate in excess of Dominion’s standard choice offer."
"For quite some time, there has been a dwindling number of marketer offers that allow
consumers to beat Dominion’ standard offer. This emergency is a time for the government
(PUCO) to incorporate this bitter reality for Dominion consumers into how the PUCO informs
(educates) consumers about their dim prospects with natural gas marketing offers," PUCO said
OCC said that, "the PUCO should revise its Apples-to-Apples website to help consumers
understand more explicitly their significant exposure for paying more money (and possibly a lot
more money) than Dominion’s low-priced standard offer ... [M] any consumers now have
less money (or no money) as result of the health crisis."
OCC also said that the PUCO, "should use its emergency powers under R.C. 4909.16 to suspend Dominion’s
disclosure of its customers’ personal contact information to gas marketers for telemarketing and
other sales purposes."
"No customer’s personal contact information should be shared with a
marketer, in the absence of the customer’s affirmative consent," OCC said
"As stated, the PUCO can declare
an emergency that, under the circumstances of the current health and financial crises, includes
barring the disclosure of customer’s personal contact information to gas marketers unless
customers have affirmatively consented. The emergency statute would allow the PUCO to
override R.C. 4929.22(F) and O.A.C. 4901:1-13-14(C), if that statute is deemed to require
disclosure unless a consumer opts out," OCC said
"Marketers can use personal contact information to exploit customers by marketing
service at unreasonable rates. This recommendation is supported by the shadow-billing
information that Columbia Gas of Ohio has collected since the inception of so-called 'Choice.'
Through March 2020, according to the latest information, Columbia consumers have paid $1.8
billion more than they would have paid had they been served by Columbia’s GCR/standard
offer," OCC said
emergency (and for a reasonable time after the formal emergency) the PUCO should help protect
already stressed consumers from cold-calling by energy marketers and from over-paying them
for natural gas service as a result of Dominion’s disclosure of their personal contact information," OCC said