Baker, Healey split on electricity sellers

Baker, Healey split on electricity sellers

Gov backs more regulation, AG favors getting rid of firms

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER parted ways with Attorney General Maura Healey on Friday on the issue of how to rein in abuses by some 50 companies that sell electricity to residential customers, often through door-to-door solicitations.

Healey said at the end of March that the industry as a whole has been so deceptive in its sales practices that it needs to be eliminated. Baker originally hedged on whether he favored Healey’s approach, but his administration signaled on Friday that it favored more regulation as the answer to the problem. A legislative committee is holding a hearing on Healey’s proposal on Tuesday.

The Department of Public Utilities, which is responsible for regulating the electricity sellers, issued an order on Friday requiring the companies to file a notice with the agency when they solicit door-to-door and abide by a code of conduct. The code of conduct requires sales people to go through a background check, carry identification, and provide a phone number where a consumer can verify who they are and which company they represent. Any companies that fail to comply could be fined or lose their license to sell electricity.

Baker administration officials characterized the order as just one of several actions they have taken over the last couple years to improve the competitive supply market and protect ratepayers. In early April, Baker applauded Healey’s efforts to highlight the deceptive practices of the companies, but the press release issued on Friday didn’t mention Healey’s proposal. Baker administration officials didn’t respond when asked directly about Healey’s proposal.

Chloe Gotsis, a spokeswoman for Healey, said the attorney general’s office would continue to enforce consumer protection measures ordered by the Department of Public Utilities. But she expressed skepticism that the measures would work.

“We remain convinced that the competitive electric supply industry is a raw deal for residential customers,” she said. “We will continue to work with the Legislature, the DPU, the energy industry, and consumer advocates to close down this scam industry.”

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Healey issued a report in late March that said the electricity sellers supply power to 20 percent of the residential customers in Massachusetts. While the firms promise savings, Healey said the customers as a whole ended up paying nearly $177 million more over a two-year period as compared to the basic service product offered by local utilities.

The attorney general accused the companies of engaging in deceptive sales practices and targeting low-income, minority, and elderly residents. “They go door to door, send letters in the mail, and call over and over again with promises of cheaper electricity or a locked-in lower rate that will save you money,” she said. “But hundreds of thousands of residential customers aren’t paying less. They’re paying more, a lot more.”