TRENTON – A three-bill package 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 was approved today by the Senate Environment and Energy Committee.
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.
“Too often, consumers are the victim of higher costs when signing up for electric or gas services,” said Senator Turner (D-Hunterdon/Mercer). “By providing a one-stop shop where customers can compare price rates and choose from a number of service providers, residents will have the opportunity to choose the best provider and the most affordable rates with all the information available to them to make a smart decision. This measure will undoubtedly help to eliminate the confusion associated with researching and choosing from electric and gas service suppliers.”
The second bill, S-2467, would change the timing of the process for when customers can switch services from an electric or gas supplier to a basic service provider or to switch between suppliers. According to the bill, a consumer looking to switch their electric service may do so as long as the public utility receives an electronic enrollment notice 20 days before the next scheduled monthly meter reading date. For customers looking to switch their gas services, an electronic enrollment notice must be sent on or before the first business day of the month and would be effective on the next scheduled meter reading date.
“When faced with an unsatisfactory contract, residents should have the option to switch service suppliers in a timely manner,” said Turner. “This bill creates a process that would enable customers to more freely and quickly change services and providers to ones that best fit their needs and budget.”
The third 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.
“Greater transparency by service providers is needed to ensure consumers are receiving the appropriate services they signed up for,” added Senator Turner. “This is why establishing a standard for comprehensive contracts is 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.
The bills cleared the Committee by a 5-0 vote. They would next go to the full Senate for consideration.