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ICC Eyes New Rules for Retail Electric Suppliers

September 16, 2015 By Cheryl Kaften

By unanimous vote, the five-member Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) agreed on September 10 to consider changes to the marketing rules applicable to retail electric suppliers in the Prairie State, in order to provide an extra layer of consumer protections.

The revisions will be made expeditiously. The ICC order requires completion of a first draft of the rule within 180 days.

“Many residential customers in Illinois now choose an alternative retail electric supplier … and, as of today, close to 50 retail electric suppliers market … to residential customers,” explained ICC Chairman Brien Sheahan, in a formal statement. “The changes proposed … will result in additional consumer protections by providing residents with more of the information they need to make informed decisions regarding their household electric needs.”

The effort to provide greater transparency to ratepayers began in earnest in September 2014, when the ICC issued a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) in an attempt to address a range of concerns pertaining to consumer electric choice, marketing practices, and the retail electric market as a whole. The NOI sought comment from interested parties on 24 specific proposals related to variable rate offers, renewable energy offers, the utilities’ price-to-compare information, consumer education, and cancellation and rescission procedures. The ICC also commissioned three workshops on the subject and received three rounds of written comments.

The ICC said its latest action will address several areas of concern involving the marketing practices of retail electric suppliers – among them:

  • Establishing standard terms and greater uniformity for different types of offers – and specifically, controlling the use of terms such “green energy” on the list of residential offers posted by suppliers on www.PlugInIllnois.org;
  • Mandating comparisons between the rate offered by the new supplier and the regulated utility’s supply rate;
  • Expanding the definition of “door-to-door” sales to include all in-person sales; and providing for verification and additional guidelines for in-person sales – for example, demanding that all sales over the telephone be recorded and those records retained, and clarifying that the sales person may not be present for third-party verification of in-person sales;
  • Requiring disclosure of a supplier’s past variable residential rates and mandating that retail electric suppliers post their residential offers on PlugInIllinois.org;
  • Restricting the use of utility names and logos; and
  • Incorporating termination fee limits, as imposed by recent legislation.

The ICC’s official electric choice website, PlugInIllinois.org, also will be enhanced and promoted under the current initiative to make consumers more aware of their rights and options as they shop the market, the ICC said.

Commissioner Miguel del Valle commented, “This rulemaking begins what has been a long-awaited and much-needed step toward increasing transparency and improving marketing practices by retail electric suppliers.”

Interested parties are encouraged to participate in the rulemaking process by filing a public comment or a petition to intervene in Docket Number 15-0512 via e-docket at http://www.icc.illinois.gov.

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