The Energy Consumer's Bulletin- a New England energy news blog

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Watch Out for Misinformation About Electricity Suppliers

Green Energy Consumers Alliance has been supporting a bill in the Massachusetts legislature that would stop retail electricity suppliers from signing up new customers on an individual basis. The bill would not affect municipal aggregation. The legislation has been sponsored by Rep. Frank Moran and Senator Brendan Crighton in collaboration with Attorney General Campbell and with the support of Governor Healey. The bill is a common sense reaction to the fact that the Attorney General’s office has solid data showing how consumers receiving power from competitive electricity suppliers have collectively paid over a half billion dollars more over six years than if they received service from their utility. Low-income families and people of color have been disproportionally targeted and harmed.

consumer loss - table for blog

We have additional data showing how consumers save even more money when they participate in municipal aggregation.

Given that there’s all that money at stake, we should not be surprised that the profiteer electricity suppliers are fighting back with misinformation. But maybe we should be surprised (or at least disappointed) when a Boston Globe columnist spreads that misinformation.

On November 28, the Globe’s Scot Lehigh ran an article that swallowed hook, line, and sinker the talking points of the companies trying to block the bill sponsored by Moran and Crighton. Read it yourself but please note the following as you do:

  • The industry’s advocates say that competitive suppliers offer consumers the chance to buy 100 percent green electricity. However, as we and others have pointed out over many years, most of these offers are tantamount to greenwashing. Our organization has been saying this for a long time (also here). To be effective at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and building renewable energy capacity in New England, the green power must be New England Class I certified. At a hearing on the Moran/Crighton bill, Elizabeth Mahony, Commissioner of the Mass. Department of Energy Resources testified that competitive electricity suppliers are contributing very few Class I resources to our grid. On the other hand, municipal aggregation has been contributing a significant amount. We estimate that aggregations are putting over one million megawatt hours per year of Class I power onto the grid above state requirements.

solar (stock)

  • Lehigh quotes the industry supporters as saying that commercial customers have fared well by competition so competition should be available to residential customers. That’s a horrible non sequitur. Competition has indeed been a good thing for commercial and industrial customers, which is why no one is suggesting that we change that. But again, the data from the Attorney General’s office shows that suppliers have preyed on individual residential customers in a variety of ways, resulting in solid proof that consumers in Massachusetts would be far better off with utility service or aggregation. Evidently, it is difficult for electricity suppliers to make a profit in the residential market without ripping people off. Put simply, it comes down to the high cost of acquiring and serving lots of small customers.
  • The columnist could have interviewed someone from Green Energy Consumers Alliance, the attorney general, the commissioner of energy resources, or experts at the National Consumer Law Center or MASSPIRG. That did not happen.

By the way, another Globe columnist, Rachelle Cohen, got this issue right last June, basically by giving the attorney general’s work the respect it deserves.

Some things about energy are complex. This issue is damn straightforward. Please contact your legislator and ask them to support “An Act Relative to Electric Ratepayer Protections”, House bill 3196 or Senate 2106.

You can find your legislator’s contact information here.