Since the complaint has been logged with the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission, Eversource has been given an opportunity to address the complaints and give their side of the story. At this point in time, I’m still waiting to hear from the PUC regarding their decision on this matter, but I would hope that the extra time they’re taking in deliberation is in preparation for a full-scale investigation of these abuses by Eversource.
Eversource has responded and a copy of their response has been carbon copied to me. I will post excerpts here and my understanding of what they’re saying.
Eversource acknowledges that it would accept the written guarantee of Rep. Fisher’s [friend] if his [friend] was a customer “in good standing.” However, the facts that Rep. Fisher’s [friend] is a customer of Eversource and is current on his bills are not suffrcient, in themselves, to demonstrate that he is a customer “in good standing.” Accordingly, Eversource would not accept the proposed guarantee.
At this point it’s important to note that the term “good standing” is not further defined in Public Utilities Commission Administrative Rules, and therefore we must resort to using the commonly accepted definition.
Unfortunately, if we use the commonly accepted definition, there’s a kink in Eversource’s plan. The fact is, that somebody who has not defaulted nor is late on their bills must be a customer in good standing, or should we assume that all customers who pay their bills are not in good standing?
Apparently, Eversource is operating with a different understanding of the term “good standing.” Let’s see what they think they’re doing.
As an initial matter, while the rule states that an irrevocable written guarantee of a customer in good standing is to be accepted in lieu of a deposit, the rule does not define what it means for a customer to be in good standing. Therefore, the utility must determine which customers can be considered to be “in good standing” and which cannot. By the standard set out in the complaint, any customer who is current on his or her bills would be deemed to be “in good standing.” By that interpretation, a customer who had requested service today would be deemed to be “in good standing” and could provide a guarantee for another immediately, though the utility would have no reasonable means of verifying whether that customer was a credit or payment risk. Further, by the standard set out in the complaint a customer current on his or her bills could be deemed to be “in good standing” regardless of that customer’s payment history. It could be that a customer who is current is only current because he or she had received a notice of disconnection for nonpayment one day prior. In essence, under the interpretation in the complaint the utility would have no greater assurance of being able to recover its money than it would absent the deposit. That is not a reasonable interpretation of the rule. Accordingly, and based upon the rules, Eversource has implemented a reasonable, objective standard for verifying whether a customer is “in good standing” for purposes of deposit requests and payment guarantees.
On the surface, these seem like pretty valid concerns from Eversource. Of course it would be great if Eversource could be guaranteed payment for every bill, it might even help their collection efforts if they could put liens on houses and cars. If they were able to garnish wages, they’d be certain to collect on non-paying members.
But stepping back into reality, we have to look at the text from the PUC:
- In lieu of a deposit, a utility shall:
- Accept the irrevocable written guarantee of a responsible party such as a social service organization, a municipal welfare agency, a bank, or a customer in good standing of the utility as a surety for a customer service account, provided that any such guarantee shall:
- Be in writing;
- Include the maximum amount guaranteed; and
- Specify that the utility shall not hold the guarantor liable for the sums in excess of the
maximum amount guaranteed unless agreed to in a separate written agreement; or
- With the agreement of both the utility and the customer, establish a direct debit account
whereby the customer’s payment shall be automatically debited from his/her bank account each month.
Now, there needs to be a clarification here, that while Eversource certainly would like to enforce more stringent rules, such as requiring the customer in good standing who makes a written guarantee to be a long-standing member, the PUC rules do not stipulate that, and as such Eversource has no authority to demand that.
If Eversource wants to use their policy instead of accepting guarantees from a “customer in good standing,” there is a proper process for them to petition the PUC to adjust the rules going forward to best serve the interest of the utility. However, since this has not occurred yet, we have no choice but to rely on the letter of the rule. It might be nice if we could put liens on houses and shake people down for every last penny. But we don’t live in the Eversourceland, we live in New Hampshire. The government makes the rules, not the monopolies.
So what criteria does Eversource wish they could use in their utopian dream-land?
Pursuant to Puc 1203.03(lX5) all deposits requested and retained by a utility must be refunded, with interest, when all bills have been paid, without arrearage,for 12 months. Thus, the rules set out a standard for determining when a customer will not, and should not, be considered a sufficient risk to justifu retaining a deposit. After making 12 months of payments without arrearages the utility can be assured that the customer will pay the bills rendered, and a deposit is no longer necessary. Eversource has adopted this same standard as the standard for determining when a customer is “in good standing” for purposes of being able to provide a guarantee on behalf of another customer. This standard is objective, reasonable, uniform to implement, and builds upon rules already in place.
Makes sense, doesn’t it? In essence what Eversource has stated here is (my paraphrase):
Instead of using the commonly accepted definition of “good standing” which defines a customer as not-in-default and bills paid, we will be using a made-up standard that does not exist in any other context that we believe is better than what the PUC meant when they wrote the rules. We will be using the amount of twelve months to determine who is in good standing and who isn’t.
Their reasoning seems sound as to why they might want the number to be twelve months, but the problem still remains: the PUC has not defined a customer in good standing as a customer for twelve-plus months.
Further, this implies that customers who have paid their bills and are perfectly current on their accounts, but have only been Eversource customers for only eleven months, are now customers not in good standing. There is no reasonable court or judge that would rule that these customers are not in good standing.
It is plain as day that Eversource has tried to stretch the definition of “good standing” to mean whatever they feel would best protect their financial interests.
If companies were allowed to interpret all laws as “whatever best protects their financial interests” we’d have no need for governing agencies or states’ legislatures. Luckily, we don’t live in Eversourceland, we live in New Hampshire which has a functioning government whose purpose is specifically to create laws and regulations to deal with scenarios and companies such as this.
It is clear that Eversource has only one goal in mind- to minimize risk to their financial assets and accounts receivable. Their shake-down practice can only exist in a realm where they have no competition and customers have no choice to do business with a competitor. But nevertheless, we have regulations against these practices, and my hope is that the PUC will do the right thing and stand behind the letter of the rules that they have written. (The PUC Administrative Rules are not passed by the House, but by a committee called JLCAR).
I will keep everybody updated as news comes in.