Kevin Hunt: Why Does It Take A Billing Cycle To Switch Electricity Suppliers?

Q: "When I figured out the cause of the big increase in my electric bill in December, I quickly chose another provider at a fixed rate. This provider assured me that their rate would take effect with my next billing. But when I received January's bill — for $350 more — this had not taken place."

"I called CL&P to complain, and they said there was nothing they could do, that it took another entire billing cycle to reflect the switchover. They did say, however, that if I had switched to CL&P as my power supplier, that change would have happened immediately. This is not fair and not right."

"The failure to provide a level playing field for energy choices and process the changes from these onerous variable plans expeditiously, has cost me and many others a lot of money."

John Christensen, South Windsor

A: Connecticut's retail power market needs an overhaul. The state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority made an initial move last week with an interim draft decision that would require electric suppliers to disclose full contract terms, including cancellation fees, and monthly rate information. A more substantive legislative proposal earlier this month, encapsuled in an Electric Supplier Consumers' Bill of Rights, addresses many other complaints, including yours.

The proposal would allow electricity customers to switch from an independent supplier to CL&P's standard-rate service within 48 hours. Switching from one independent supplier to another, however, would take 30 days — essentially one billing period, as it is now. But after a year, customers could also switch independent suppliers within 48 hours.

Other highlights:

>> Eliminate introductory teaser rates.

>> Reduce or eliminate early termination fees.

>> Prevent suppliers from switching from a fixed to a variable-rate contract without the customer's written consent.

>> Crack down on abusive sales practices.

To see the complete Consumers' Bill of Rights, click here.

CL&P's response to your call was correct. You can switch from a third-party supplier to CL&P immediately if you have received one or more bills from that supplier and CL&P gets a meter reading (or estimate) when you call.

So why does it take one billing cycle to switch from one third-party supplier to another?

"The supplier must first electronically send us a 'drop notification' on behalf of the customer before we can accept the new supplier request," says CL&P spokesman Mitch Gross. "That has been known to take 30 days or longer."


A sample of reader response to "How Do Electricity Suppliers Get Away With It?" — The Bottom Line column from March 16:

"After reading your TBL column this morning I got out our last few CL&P bills. My wife and I have been paying $30-plus more per month for the privilege of dealing with Direct Energy Services. I will be calling CL&P tomorrow to renew them as our energy supplier. I only wish that our senators and congressmen paid more attention to things like this and not to their usual 'bushwah.' Believe me, they will hear from me on this.

Frank A. Hollo, Colchester

"We went with Constellation Energy about 11 months ago at a special 'introductory' rate of 7.39 cents per kilowatt hour. Just received our March bill and, guess what, it went up to 16.99 cents per kilowatt hour — more than double. What a complete rip-off of the consumer. Thanks for the wake-up call.

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