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Tag Archive: Public utility

Maryland to Implement Supplier Consolidated Billing

Finding that supplier consolidated billing (SCB) represents the next logical step for Maryland to fully implement customer choice, the Maryland Public Service Commission on May 7, 2019 issued an order authorizing SCB for retail electric and natural gas service in Maryland. In this historic order, the Commission found that SCB could support the growth of retail competition in Maryland and is consistent with the Commission’s policies to promote competition. SCB, by augmenting the existing billing arrangements, should assist suppliers in establishing brand identity and clarifying the products available to customers. At the same time, SCB should facilitate the development of new and innovative products and services and increase the number of Maryland households that shop for electricity and natural gas. Based on these and other conclusions, the Commission found that “it is now appropriate to proceed with the development of SCB.”

The case was initiated by five retail suppliers – NRG Energy, IGS Energy, Just Energy Group, Direct Energy and ENGIE Resources – and the Commission held a hearing in February 2018. We’ve blogged about this case here and here and also posted a video blog here.

In the order, the Commission established the SCB Workgroup and immediately tasked it with developing an implementation timeline within the next 60 days. The timeline, filed in early July 2019, calls for full-on SCB implementation by September 1, 2022.

To guide the SCB Workgroup, the Commission addressed numerous substantive elements of the SCB program, the highlights of which include:

Supplier Qualifications to Provide SCB:

The Commission held: “any proposed regulations should comprehensively address the capabilities necessary to ensure that these functions are performed on par with existing utility offerings. Further, the regulations should be tailored to demonstrate that a supplier can meet the rigorous demands of increased customer service and dispute resolution functions, complex billing requirements, and the quality assurance and record keeping necessary to handle utility charges that may contribute to potential utility disconnections.”

Authority of SCB Providers to Disconnect Customers for Nonpayment:

The Commission rejected the petitioners’ request to allow SCB suppliers to initiate disconnects for non-payment. This had been a central element of the petitioners’ case because it is necessary to manage bad debt, similar to the utilities. In response to those concerns, the Commission will require that utilities purchase the outstanding distribution charges of a delinquent customer account upon the customer’s return to standard offer service (SOS), as further discussed below. For other charges, the SCB provider must resort to the traditional remedies of other non-regulated businesses, including reporting to credit agencies, seeking monetary judgments in court, and pursuing collection activities.

Purchase of Receivables (POR) and Supplier Bad Debt:

The Commission held that SCB suppliers must provide POR to the utili8ty on substantially the same terms as provide in utility consolidated billing (UCB). The Commission directed the workgroups, including the SCB Workgroup, to identify and propose an equitable payment posting priority system and other protections that may be necessary to ensure that any charges contributing to a disconnection are properly handled. Additionally, the Commission agreed with the petitioners that suppliers need some ability to protect themselves from the risk of non-payment. The Commission held that, after reasonable efforts to collect, the supplier should not be required to hold any debt attributable to the customer’s distribution charges paid under POR. Where a supplier can demonstrate the amount of unpaid distribution charges, the utility should repurchase those charges at a zero discount rate unless the SCB Workgroup can provide alternative calculations which are supported by a compelling analysis.

Customer Protection and Customer Education:

The Commission held that a supplier that offers SCB is required to provide all the same consumer protections, disclosures (including the utility’s price to compare), notices,
and billing information required of a regulated utility. This includes providing all surcharge line items and compliance with all current COMARs related to consumer protections. The Commission directed the SCB Workgroup to identify and justify any deviations from or additions to existing consumer protection standards. The SCB Workgroup should consider new disclosure and notice requirements for how utilities and SCB suppliers communicate the varying relationships to the customer, the content of past due notices by SCB suppliers, and the utility notices for customers selecting SCB.

Cost Recovery:

The Commission made no findings regarding cost recovery. The Commission directed the SCB Workgroup to identify and estimate, with as much detail as possible, these and any other costs and benefits related to SCB. The Commission directed the SCB Workgroup to consider varying cost recovery mechanisms and present either a consensus approach or options for Commission consideration. The Commission recognized that the SCB Workgroup might not reach a consensus on cost recovery but said, “this should not delay progress towards proposing regulations in other areas.”

If you have questions about SCB or electric or natural gas retail service in general, please contact one of GreeneHurlocker’s energy and regulatory lawyers.

Dominion, Appalachian Power Dispute SCC Decision

SCC CASE UPDATE:

Last week we told you about an important State Corporation Commission (“SCC” or “Commission”) decision that could expand access to competitive electric supply in Virginia. The SCC approved a request filed by a group of manufacturing customers to combine their demands for purposes of shopping for competitive electric supply. The SCC found that their request was “in the public interest.” The SCC approved the customers’ application over the objections of both Dominion Energy Virginia (“Dominion”) and Appalachian Power Company (“APCo”). Dominion argued that allowing the companies to shop for competitive electric supply would “erode a significant portion of the utility’s jurisdictional customer base.”

Both utilities are now appealing the decision to the Virginia Supreme Court. Dominion filed a notice of appeal with the SCC on March 21, while APCo filed its notice on March 15. The utilities have not yet filed their assignments of error (i.e., their grounds for appealing the decision).

Appeals from the SCC are “of right,” meaning the Supreme Court is required to hear any case that’s properly appealed.  While the Court can overturn any of the Commission’s findings, the Court usually gives deference to the SCC. The Court has frequently said that SCC decisions are “entitled to the respect due judgments of a tribunal informed by experience” and that Commission orders won’t be disturbed if “based upon the application of the correct principles of law.”

We’ll keep you updated on the status of this important case. If you want to talk about this case, the SCC’s role, or energy law and regulation, just call any of our energy lawyers.

Dominion Issues RFP for New Solar and Wind Energy

wind turbines and solar arraysEarlier this week Dominion Energy Virginia (“Dominion”) released a request for proposals (“RFP”) for 300 MW of new solar and onshore wind energy. The company is seeking to either sign power purchase agreements or purchase renewable energy projects that are under development. The facilities must be capable of producing power by 2019 or 2020.

Dominion released its RFP after announcing that it will offer a new renewable energy tariff (“Schedule RF”), which the company intends to file with the State Corporation Commission in the coming weeks. Schedule RF is intended to serve Facebook, which is building a one million square foot data center in eastern Henrico County, and other large commercial customers. Under the proposed Schedule RF tariff, participating customers would purchase the renewable energy attributes of new facilities that are added to the grid.

Notices of intent to bid are due by 5:00PM on October 27, 2017, and responses to the RFP are due on December 1, 2017. The RFP directs bidders to provide their best and final price when providing a proposal. In addition to the price, the RFP document states that Dominion will consider “non-price” criteria when evaluating proposals, including the economic development impacts for Virginia and the financial strength of the firm submitting a bid.

For more information about this RFP or the regulations affecting renewable energy development in Virginia, please contact one of our renewable energy lawyers or regulatory attorneys.

DC Commission Instructs WGL to Implement a Purchase of Receivables Program

The District of Columbia Public Service Commission (PSC) has issued an Order directing Washington Gas Light Company (WGL) – the only natural gas distribution utility in the District – to implement a purchase of receivables (POR) program for competitive retail natural gas suppliers that sell natural gas supply in the District.  WGL must file an implementation plan by July 17, 2017, and stakeholders may comment on the plan within 15 days thereafter.

In the Order, the PSC adopted components of a POR program that will resemble WGL’s program already in effect in Maryland, and also Pepco’s program already in effect in the District. At the outset, the PSC made clear that POR programs promote customer choice, thereby increasing competition and reducing commodity prices. The PSC noted that the availability of POR programs has led to increased supplier participation in Maryland and in the District’s electric choice programs.

The PSC addressed the elements of the discount rates for suppliers serving residential and non-residential customers. Without going into every component, WGL’s POR will be non-recourse as to suppliers and the POR discount rates will include: (1) bad debt expense; (2) implementation costs; (3) incremental collection costs; (4) cash working capital costs; (5) risk factor; (6) reconciliation factor; and (7) late payment revenues. A few points here worth mentioning:

  • WGL must include in its implementation plan a detailed breakdown of implementation costs. WGL has previously stated that its the costs will range from $600,000 to $800,000, which the PSC noted is far more than the $150,000 it cost Pepco to implement a POR program in the District in 2012, and far less than the $3.3 million it cost WGL to implement a POR program in Maryland in 2012.
  • The risk factor will be set to zero.
  • WGL must include late payment revenues collected on purchased receivables in the discount rate.
  • Non-commodity charges, such as early termination fees, are not to be purchased.

The PSC initiated this case after the Retail Energy Supply Association (RESA) raised POR as an issue in a separate proceeding regarding WGL’s billing system. The PSC held, in that case, that consideration of a POR program was warranted, and initiated Formal Case 1140 to consider it. Stakeholders, including WGL, RESA, and the Office of People’s Counsel, filed comments in FC 1140 during the months leading up the Order.

If you would like more information about GreeneHurlocker’s work in the competitive retail energy space throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, or other related areas, please contact one of our energy lawyers.

Virginia Governor Directs State to Regulate Carbon Emissions

McAuliffe’s Directive Requires State Regulation of Carbon Emissions from Power Plants

coal-fired plant in VirginiaOn May 16, 2017, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe issued an executive action directing the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (“DEQ”) to draft a regulation restricting the emission of carbon dioxide from electric generating facilities. Executive Directive 11 orders DEQ to draft a regulation pursuant to Va. Code §§ 10.1-1300, et seq. that will “abate, control, or limit carbon dioxide emissions from electric power facilities.” The directive states that DEQ must propose a regulation that is “trading ready” and will allow for the exchange of carbon emissions allowances with other states.

This type of action would be a first in Virginia. While the state Air Pollution Control Board has previously enforced greenhouse gas rules promulgated under the federal law – including the Clean Air Act’s new source permitting provisions – the Commonwealth has never before attempted to promulgate carbon rules based solely on state law.

On May 12, 2017, in response to a legislative request, Attorney General Mark Herring issued an advisory opinion stating that carbon emissions constitute an “air pollutant” and thus are subject to regulation under state law. The Attorney General’s opinion noted that “the overwhelming body of scientific literature demonstrates a growing consensus among scientists” that carbon emissions “contribute to elevated global temperatures and may be harmful to the welfare of people, animals, and property.”

The Governor’s directive comes as the federal Clean Power Plan, a greenhouse gas regulation promulgated by the EPA during the Obama administration, is under legal challenge and subject to a stay by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Trump administration has also indicated that it will attempt to suspend or repeal the Clean Power Plan.

The Governor directed that the draft regulation should be presented to the State Air Pollution Control Board for consideration no later than December 31, 2017. After the regulation is proposed, it will be subject the notice and comment procedures established by Virginia’s Administrative Process Act. Executive Directive 11 followed a report and recommendation issued by a workgroup chaired by the Secretary of Natural Resources.

Please contact one of our renewable energy lawyers or regulatory attorneys should you have questions about this matter.

For Retail Energy Suppliers – Compliance Matters Part 2

(Originally posted at LinkedIn.com)

Last week, we introduced Part 1 of our two-part discussion about the importance of retail electricity and natural gas suppliers complying with state laws. We focused on requirements in the contract, the contract summary, certain required disclosures, and so forth. This week, we’ll hit on items relating to marketing, such as your company’s marketing materials, telemarketing, and door-to-door activities. Our lawyers are counseling retail suppliers daily on these and other regulatory issues, so please feel free to contact us at (804) 864-1100 if you have any questions or desire additional information.

Have you checked your marketing materials?

Marketing materials are the primary means of communicating offers to prospective customers. It’s safe to say that all states require marketing materials to contain accurate information and not mislead customers. Additionally, states differ in their requirements that the materials include certain information in specific circumstances. In Pennsylvania and soon in Delaware, if you quote a price, you must also provide a table showing the price per kWh for an average residential customer (and small commercial in Delaware) using 500, 1,000, or 2,000 kWh of electricity. Most states require other disclosures such as a license number and that the state commission does not regulate the supplier’s prices. You want to make sure that marketing materials used in specific states follow that state’s requirements.

Are you training your agents properly?

In the past few years, states have revised their rules to include specific areas of training for supplier’s agents, including telemarketing and door-to-door agents. Roughly, there are about 12 topics that must be included in agent training. Those topics include certain state and federal laws and can include local laws as well. When we review training materials, we recommend a robust slide deck and reference materials that can be produced to a state commission or a public advocate if necessary to show the extent of the training. Many suppliers will require the agent to sign a verification form that he or she completed the training. Some suppliers require a test at the end. What’s in your company’s training materials, and are you ready to produce the documents if you are required to do so?

What’s in your telemarketing sales scripts?

Are your telemarketing agents adequately explaining the product and the material terms and conditions? Agents are generally required to discuss all material terms during the sales portion of the call, and some states have specific disclosures that the agent must make. Are you reviewing your telemarketing sales scripts periodically and ensuring they comply with state laws? Also, while some states require that you record either the sales portion of the call or the third-party verification, others require that you record both. And if you’re recording, in what manner and for how long are your maintaining the recording?

How about that third-party verification?

Many states are now including specific questions to be asked during the TPV. Maryland has a specific requirement that the sales agent not be present and that the TPV agent instruct the customer how to terminate the TPV without enrolling. There’s also an issue of when you need a TPV – states are different, and the TPV can also be done utilizing a process other than the telephone.

Can I cold-call thousands of potential customers and sign them up without a wet or electronic signature on a contract?

Not in Maryland, you can’t. This has tripped up more than one supplier. The Maryland Telephone Solicitations Act has specific exemptions, and if you don’t meet one of those then you have to obtain the customer’s wet or electronic signature to enter into a contract with that customer. If you satisfy one of the exemptions, there are regulations that still apply to the enrollment. This is a perfect example of the importance of knowing a state’s law before you start marketing.

Does my door-to-door contract meet state requirements?

There’s the substance of the contract (and the related Notice of Cancellation), but there’s also the formatting. We’ve seen suppliers get penalized for, or at least forced to litigate, issues such as not placing language in a contract where a statute says it must be placed, or for not putting specific language in bold, or for not providing a sufficient number of copies to the customer.

So there you have it – a list of compliance checks that is enough to get you started but not enough to ensure 100% compliance. If we tried to cover every item, our little two-part series would turn into a big fat book. The takeaway here is that there are a lot of rules in each state, and failing to comply with any one of them could land your company on the regulatory hot seat. As we said in Part 1, compliance is not sexy, but You Gotta Do It (tip: when playing this gif, hover your cursor over the screen, and on the bottom right you’ll see a volume button. Turn on the volume.).

GreeneHurlocker’s lawyers handle a broad range of regulatory and transactional matters related to electricity, natural gas, and water. Our lawyers work extensively with retail electricity and natural gas suppliers throughout the Mid-Atlantic. We’re also heavily involved in the renewable energy business, including solar, biomass and wind. We do other stuff, too. We encourage you to contact us with any questions.

For Retail Energy Suppliers – Compliance Matters

(Originally posted at LinkedIn.com)

If you’re a retail electricity or natural gas supplier and you think no one will ever file a complaint against you, or that no state commission will ever ring you up with a show cause order – just stop it now. While you can’t control complaints filed against your company, you can control how closely your company adheres to laws regarding marketing to, contracting with, enrolling, and serving customers. In other words, you can significantly reduce the risk of complaints.

In the past few years, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, D.C., and others have started or completed the process of revising their consumer protection rules, adding numerous requirements for retail suppliers who do business in those jurisdictions. Is your company adhering to these new rules? Has your company researched various applicable state statutes in areas such as telemarketing and door-to-door marketing to ensure that you’re compliant?

We get it. Resources devoted to compliance can be costly and certainly don’t produce revenues. But compliance will allow your company to avoid the even greater expense of responding to more and more complaints and, inevitably, participating in a show cause proceeding and enduring the bad press that comes with it. So consider compliance a necessary evil and You Gotta Do It.

Since we’re involved all the time with clients facing compliance requirements, we have developed a quick-hit list of items you should assess internally to ensure your company’s compliance. This is Part 1, which focuses on the retail supplier’s contract with the customer. In Part 2, which we’ll publish next week, we’ll cover items relating to marketing. In the interim, if you have any questions, you are welcome to call one of our energy regulatory lawyers at (804) 864-1100.

The below items are not listed in any particular order, and rules vary by state, but you’ll get the idea.

What’s in your contracts?

Most states have a list of material terms and conditions that must be included in the contract. They include all fees and charges, early termination fees, how the customer and the supplier may terminate the contract, the duration of the contract, renewal procedures, and so forth. Maryland and Pennsylvania require specific contract language for variable-priced contracts, and as of this writing Delaware is about to join them.

What’s this Contract Summary thingamabob?

Many states now require the supplier to summarize the contract in a table or box, similar to what you see in communications from your credit card company. There can be rules identifying which specific provisions must be summarized. Rules also address when you must provide the summary during the different marketing and enrollment channels (telemarketing, door-to-door, internet, etc.). The summary is a useful tool to assist customers in understanding the most material of the material contract terms.

Do I have to notify variable price customers every month about the next month’s price?

In Maryland and soon in Delaware, you will need to provide the customer with access to the next month’s rate at least 12 days before it becomes effective. If you don’t know the price, you must provide an estimate, and your actual price cannot exceed your estimate. The goal here is to allow customers to see their next month’s price. If they don’t like it, they can switch to a different provider before the new price becomes effective. This new rule works in conjunction with changes in law that allow customers to switch in three business days as opposed to the current timeline which can take up to five or six weeks. The customer’s access to the new price can include posting the new price on a website, or allowing the customer to call the supplier to obtain the new price.

What do I need to say in a renewal letter and when do I send it to the customer?

Each state has different requirements in terms of substance and in the timing of sending the notice to customers. Omitting the required information can result in penalties. Some states require you to highlight any changes to the material terms of the contract. Many states have altered their renewal notice requirements in the past few years, so we recommend that you review your notices to ensure they are compliant.

How’s your on-line enrollment process?

Most suppliers allow customers to enroll online. Just pick your product, enter the relevant info and you’ve authorized a switch to the new supplier. But are you providing all the necessary information at the right times? Does your site prompt the customer to print the contract? Are you doing what’s required to ensure that the signature qualifies as an electronic signature? Some states are broadening their review of suppliers’ websites during the application process, and certainly consumer advocates are examining the information on the sites to ensure that customers fully understand the products they are considering.

Compliance can seem daunting, and it takes time. At the end of the day, it’s an investment that will make for well-informed customers that choose your company because they understand the product and trust that your company is better than all others. We hope that the above list, and the list we’ll publish next week in Part 2 of our series, provides a starting point for your review, as these are just some of the issues our lawyers see on a daily basis and that every supplier should address in each state in which it operates. Stressing compliance within your company, while perhaps not popular, should lead to a happier, loyal customer base and avoid significant regulatory costs down the road.

GreeneHurlocker’s lawyers handle a broad range of regulatory and transactional matters related to electricity, natural gas, and water. Our lawyers work extensively with retail electricity and natural gas suppliers throughout the Mid-Atlantic. We’re also heavily involved in the renewable energy business, including solar, biomass and wind. We do other stuff, too. We encourage you to contact us with any questions.

Delaware Approves New Consumer Protection Rules for Comment

The Delaware Commission on November 1, 2016, approved for publication and comment new consumer protection rules that largely resemble the rules that were published in October and which we blogged about here.  We expect the newly-approved rules to appear in the December 1, 2016 Delaware Register, followed by a comment period. This marks the near-end of a proceeding that has lasted for more than four years.

The primary stakeholders in the proceeding had agreed to certain modifications to the version of the rules published in October, but two non-consensus issues remained for the Commission’s consideration. The two issues involved the length of the rescission period and issues pertaining to the customer lists that the utility, Delmarva Power, provides to licensed retail suppliers. The Commission ruled on those matters on November 1, and a written, formal order is expected at the Commission’s November 15 meeting.

The newly-approved rules are a total re-write of Delaware’s current rules. They include numerous protections for consumers and include rules for suppliers who want to sell electricity to Delaware customers.  The rules will require suppliers to provide specific information to customers during the marketing and enrollment processes to ensure that customers fully understand the electricity products they are considering. The rules also obligate suppliers to provide information to current customers during at certain times during the contractual relationship. Not only that, but the rules to into great detail concerning marketing channels such as door-to-door and telemarketing, as well as other matters.

Once published, there will be a comment period and we expect the rules to become final at some point in the first quarter of 2017. Our firm has represented the Retail Energy Supply Association in this proceeding. If you want further information on the proposed Delaware rules or have questions about retail energy competition and consumer protection, call one of our energy regulations lawyers.

Delaware Arguments Are Covered at EnergyChoiceMatters.com

We’re grateful for the coverage EnergyChoiceMatters.com put out yesterday about the staff-suggested changes to proposed Delaware rules that the Retail Energy Suppliers Association and the Division of Public Advocate (DPA) worked out earlier this year. We think are these changes in the proposed rules are market killers because of their supplier and consumer requirements. You can read their complete coverage here. The Delaware Commission posted pictures of the meeting here.

If you have any questions or concerns about the Delaware rules or any energy regulation matter in the mid-Atlantic, simply contact one of our energy lawyers.

Commonwealth Pledges Reduced Carbon Emissions

McAuliffe

Virginia Governor McAuliffe
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On June 28, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signed an Executive Order intended to significantly reduce carbon emissions from Virginia’s power plants and to combat the effects of climate change in the Commonwealth. Executive Order No.57 directs Secretary of Natural Resources Molly Ward to convene a Work Group and to report back to the Governor with concrete recommendations for reducing CO2 emissions. The Executive Order directs the Secretary to provide a final report and recommendations to the Governor no later than May 31, 2017.

Governor McAuliffe noted that the power generation sector, including coal and gas-fired power plants, account for almost 30% of the total carbon emissions in the Commonwealth. Governor McAuliffe also stated that he had ample authority under Article V of the Virginia Constitution and Virginia Code Section 10.1 to mandate carbon reductions via executive order. The Executive Order directs the Secretary to consider electric rate impacts and economic development opportunities in her recommendations.

The announcement came as federal efforts to address climate change are on hold. In February, the U.S. Supreme Court halted the implementation of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan (which we covered here), a regulation that the Obama Administration hopes will drastically reduce carbon emissions from the nation’s coal and gas-fired power plants and promote new investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency resources.  The Governor said that even though EPA’s Clean Power Plan has been stayed by the Court, Virginia cannot afford to delay taking action on climate change.

The press release from the Governor’s Office and full text of the Executive Order is Available here.