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NJ Senate Passes Retail Energy Consumer Protection Bill

October 28, 2015 By Cheryl Kaften

The New Jersey State Senate passed a bill (A3851) on October 23 that imposes contract standards between customers and third-party electric power and gas suppliers. The measure already has been approved by the House and goes next to Governor Chris Christie (R) for his signature.

Under the terms of the new legislation, in order to do business in the state, an electric power or gas supplier must provide customers with a contract in written form – including a one-page information sheet summarizing the material terms and conditions of the services to be delivered; the duration of the agreement; the price per kilowatt or per therm, whether the contract is for a fixed or a variable rate; and how the contract can be terminated. Contracts must be made available in both English and Spanish.

In addition, the retail energy provider must offer customers “a brief explanation of the difference between a fixed rate and a variable rate that is easily understandable by the general public, including an explanation on how weather fluctuations may affect the price of variable rate contracts.”

To address privacy concerns, the measure specifies that “an electric power supplier or gas supplier shall not provide the customer’s telephone number, email address, or postal address to other electric power suppliers or gas suppliers, if the customer’s telephone number appears on the ‘no telemarketing call list’ established and maintained by the [New Jersey] Division of Consumer Affairs … or the ‘national do-not-call registry,’ maintained by the Federal Trade Commission.”

The exception to that rule is that a utility may disclose and provide a residential customer’s name, rate class, and account number –without the consent of that customer – if the information is to be used for a government aggregation program.

Among other consumer protections noted in the bill, the legislators have addressed penalties to providers that violate any of the mandates. In addition to any other penalties, fines, or remedies  authorized by law, the legislation notes, “an electric power or gas supplier, broker, energy agent, marketer, private aggregator, sales representative, or  telemarketer that collects charges for … service supplied to a residential customer who was subjected to false or misleading advertising claims … shall be liable to the residential customer in an amount equal to all charges  paid by the residential customer after such violation occurs.”

The measure is scheduled for implementation in about five months.

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