TURNER LEGISLATION STRENGTHENING CONSUMER PROTECTIONS FOR UTILITY CUSTOMERS ADVANCES

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TRENTON – Two bills sponsored by Senator Shirley K. Turner that would create greater consumer protections for utility customers by establishing requirements and contract standards aimed at providing transparency among gas and electrical companies were approved today by the full Senate.

The first bill, S-2466, would require the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) to post on its website direct links provided by electric and gas service suppliers regarding price comparison information. The board would also be required to consult with each electric and gas utility and service supplier to compile the links into a database on its website.

“When signing up for electric or gas services, consumers are often left paying higher utility costs without even realizing it,” said Senator Turner (D-Hunterdon/Mercer). “By establishing a resource page where customers can choose from a number of service providers while comparing costs, residents will have the opportunity to select from the best provider for their needs at the most affordable rate without any risk of hidden costs. This measure will undoubtedly help to eliminate the confusion associated with researching and choosing from electric and gas service suppliers.”

The second bill, S-2468, would prohibit electric power and gas suppliers from providing services to customers in the state unless they provide a one-page information sheet in 12-point font, available in English and Spanish, summarizing the terms and conditions of their contracts. The contract, according to the legislation, would also need to be provided in 12-point font. The supplier would also be required to clarify in the one-page sheet whether the contract is a fixed or variable rate as well as provide a brief explanation of the difference and include whether fluctuations may affect the price of the variable rate contracts. Furthermore, the bill would prohibit companies from providing a customer’s telephone number, e-mail or postal address to other suppliers if the customer’s telephone number appears on the federal or state do-not-call list.

“Utility companies must provide greater transparency in their contracts so that consumers are informed fully of the services they are signing up for,” added Senator Turner. “This is why providing a standard for comprehensive contracts is very important. By clarifying terms and conditions, customers can have a better understanding of their services and fees while allowing them the opportunity to ask questions and voice their concerns with their providers.”

In 1999, New Jersey deregulated the sale of electricity and natural gas, paving the way for a new industry of third party electric and gas suppliers. With the supply portion open to competition, customers could now shop for the best price on energy supply. While electric and natural gas distribution utilities still deliver that supply through their wires and pipes – and respond to emergencies, should they arise – regardless of where the supply is purchased, the third party suppliers offer prices that often appear to be lower than the price from the utility.

S-2466 was approved by the Senate with a vote of 37-0 and heads to the Assembly for consideration. S-2468 was approved by a vote of 38-0 and passed the Assembly with a vote of 72-0. It now heads to the Governor’s desk.

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