uhohA few weeks ago, I reported on a complaint that I had lodged with the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission (NHPUC) regarding a dispute over Eversource’s recent deposit notices.  If you haven’t had a chance to review it, I urge you to go back and read the original article for context, but here’s a brief overview.

In February of 2015 I received a notice from Eversource demanding that a deposit of close to $800 to be paid to them to be held for at least 12 months, but for a potentially indefinite amount of time due to my account having had a few late payments, but having never suffered a shutoff nor having anybody come to collect a bill.

Upon hearing this, I exercised my right to have a responsible party give them a written guarantee for the amount in lieu of the deposit, as afforded to me in the NHPUC Administrative rules 1203.03.

Eversource rejected the offer, unlawfully so in my opinion, and so I submitted the complaint to the NHPUC, who then forwarded my complaint to Eversource.

Eversource responded to the complaint explaining that they think it’s reasonable to demand that the guarantor be an Eversource customer for at least 12 months, even though this is not in the NHPUC Administrative rules.

Well, up until today, we were waiting to see how the NHPUC would rule on this, and I will admit, perhaps my faith in the NH government was just too high, because today we saw the NHPUC fail to do their job, and in so doing, fail New Hampshire by putting the Eversource monopoly above the lowly customers who have no choice but to depend on the rule of the commission.

The NHPUC has ruled on this case to define good standing and demonstrate why a customer who pays their bills on time is not a customer in good standing:

In accordance with Puc 204.04(b), the Commission has determined that there is no basis for your dispute with Eversource. The Commission’s rules do not define the term “customer of good standing of the utility.” Instead, the Commission applies the common understanding of that term to determine whether a utility’s practices are reasonable. The Commission found that it is reasonable for Eversource to define “customer in good standing” as a customer with a history of twelve timely payments without arrearages before accepting that customer’s personal guarantee as surety for another customer’s account.

So, in one breath they say they need to use the “common understanding” of the phrase “good standing,” and then without even missing a beat they go on to say that they let Eversource define it, and that’s just good enough for them.

Hold the phone, did the NHPUC literally just say that they allowed Eversource to define the term, rather than NHPUC defining the term and applying it to Eversource?

Who makes the rules here, guys?

Apparently the NHPUC is here to rubber stamp Eversource’s business dealings. And that’s a bad thing.

One of the reasons the NHPUC exists is to act as an authority to rein in the utilities when they try to abuse their position as monopolies. But when the commission acts as little more than a rubber stamp, you know something stinks.

What’s the common understanding of “good standing” anyway? Let’s try a little google search. If it’s common, we should see the phrase “twelve months” everywhere. Right?

A person or organisation in good standing is regarded as having complied with all his or its explicit obligations and having unabated powers to conduct his or its activities.

Wikipedia

Member in good standing is the status assigned to a member of an organization when he or she has remained current on organization dues and payments. Staying current with filing of required periodical reports such as registration, license and tax is also generally a criteria for a member to be in good standing.

uslegal.com

Status of a firm (or member of an organization) which is current with the payment of statutory dues and filing of required periodical reports.

businessdictionary.com

The status of a member of a profession who is not suspended or disbarred, and is registered with a proper authority and has paid any registration fees

wiktionary.com

In favor or on good terms with someone

Oxforddictionaries.com

“Good Standing’ is not defined in the Davis-Stirling Act but is generally understood to mean a member who is current in the payment of their assessments and not in violation of the governing documents. Those members who are delinquent and/or have been found to be in violation of the governing documents (following due process) are deemed “Not in Good Standing.”

Davis-Stirling.com

The state of an individual or a business being up to date or current on dividend payments, debt servicing, reporting requirements, or other obligations.

investorwords.com

Members of The Florida Bar in good standing shall mean only those persons licensed to practice law in Florida who have paid annual membership fees or dues for the current year and who are not retired, resigned, delinquent, inactive, or suspended members.

floridabar.org

the phrase “good standing” means that the attorney has been duly admitted to practice, is not currently suspended or disbarred, is currently registered with the Office of Court Administration, and is not in arrears in the payment of the $375 biennial registration fee

nycourts.gov

Entity status in terms of being up-to-date for anything due, like dues, reports, other criteria, as a member of an organization.

thelawdictionary.org

Attorneys who do not have any disciplinary action against them can obtain a Certificate of Good Standing from the Court of Appeals.

courts.state.md.us

An attorney is considered to be in good standing with the Supreme Court when all the following apply:

  • the attorney is admitted to the practice of law in Ohio;
  • the attorney is registered under Gov. Bar R. VI for the current biennium and all prior bienniums for which registration was required;
  • the attorney is not subject to a Supreme Court order that prohibits the attorney from practicing law (e.g., an order of suspension, disbarment, or resignation from practice);
  • if the attorney has been disciplined, the attorney has paid all costs ordered by the Court (e.g., board costs, publication costs) and has otherwise complied with all requirements as ordered by the Court;
  • if the attorney has been the subject of a CLE enforcement proceeding under Gov. Bar R. X, the attorney has paid any fees imposed by the Court for the attorney’s non-compliance with CLE requirements;
  • the attorney has not been held in contempt by the Supreme Court or, if the attorney has been held in contempt, the attorney has been purged of contempt.

supremecourt.ohio.gov

if you were applying for a car loan, and the dealership was trying to determine if you were a viable candidate, they may request a letter of good standing from your landlord to verify you are making the rent payments every month.

howtowritealetter.net

To stay in good standing, your account must have:

  • No Community Guidelines strikes
  • No copyright strikes
  • No more than one video blocked worldwide by Content ID

youtube.com

The Delaware Certificate of Good Standing, also known as a Certificate of Existence, is a letter provided by the Delaware Secretary of State that declares that a company is in good standing with the state. It specifically lists the incorporation date, good standing status for a corporation or LLC and whether taxes are current for a corporation or LLC.

delawareinc.com

 

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it represents the first few pages of a simple google search looking for the “common understanding” of the phrase “good standing.”

What do each of these definitions have in common?

Good standing is the default state, and in order to be found not in good standing, one must fail to fulfill obligation (pay fees, keep registration, follow rules). Not only is it the default state, but it’s such a default that Delaware just calls their certificate of Good Standing the Certificate of Existence. As in, the only way not to be in good standing is to not have incorporated and not pay taxes, and then you’re not even a company at that point.

Good standing is a binary position, if you’re not in good standing, then you are not in good standing. There’s no probationary period by which a party is considered not in good enough standing.

The fact that the NHPUC has such a disregard for the common phrase is troubling, pointing to either incompetence, malice, or straight up corruption. They exist to enforce the rules, and what they have done here is obviously not that. There should be no doubt in anybody’s mind at this point that what has taken place here is a blatant abuse of power and needs to be stopped immediately.

But this matter gets even more complex than just the definition of good standing.

The list of requirements from the NHPUC Administrative Rules (1203.03) are as follows:

  1. In lieu of a deposit, a utility shall:
    1. 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:
      1. Be in writing;
      2. Include the maximum amount guaranteed; and
      3. 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
    2. 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.

They shall (must) accept the guarantee of a responsible party full stop.

The following list demonstrates examples of such a responsible party, but it is not an exhaustive list. Why do we know this? Because it’s preceded by “such as.”

One such responsible party is a customer in good standing, which is exactly who just got rejected. But interestingly the good standing example isn’t even a limitation. What the PUC has deemed at this point is that the guarantor is not only in good-standing limbo (neither good nor not in good standing) but that the guarantor is also not considered responsible at all irrespective of their relationship with Eversource.

Something at the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission smells bad. We’ve got some rules that aren’t being enforced. If this is how the Executive Director, Debra A. Howland, is going to be enforcing rules then we know that she’s not fit for the job.

I will be appealing this decision, the fight is far from over. Needless to say, I’m morbidly curious how far this corruption goes. The New Hampshire people deserve better than this.

Until next time.