CT officials, lawmakers call for probe into Eversource marketing

Two senior state officials are calling for Connecticut regulators to open an investigation into Eversource Energy’s marketing tactics after complaints about the utility’s efforts to get homeowners to switch their home heating from oil to natural gas.

Rich Sobolewski, the acting consumer advisor for Connecticut, said the investigation will seek to determine if Eversource’s natural gas supplier has violated natural gas conversion marketing regulations. Sobolewski and Attorney General William Tong filed a petition with the Public Utility Regulatory Authority on Wednesday calling for an investigation into Eversource’s marketing tactics.

According to Tong, Eversource allegedly used time-sensitive misleading information when selling its conversion plan to homeowners through mailings and door-to-door sales visits.

“Connecticut consumers shouldn’t be exposed to these fraudulent and misleading marketing tactics for any product, let alone any regulated utility service,” he said. “Eversource needs to regain Connecticut’s confidence after failing to respond adequately to Tropical Storm Isaias last year. Connecticut and its toll payers should get more from Eversource. “

The natural gas expansion effort began in 2014 after PURA agreed with the state’s three natural gas suppliers to expand 900 miles to 280,000 customers over a 10-year period.

“There were some specific rules that they should follow, such as not being able to return any money for switching to natural gas,” said Sobolewski. “Based on what we already know, it goes way beyond what you should be doing. It doesn’t look good when you do that. “

He declined to elaborate on what rules Eversource’s natural gas vision may have violated. Sobolewski said his office began consulting with Tong about an investigation a few days ago.

Mitch Gross, a spokesman for Eversource, said the mailings were mistakenly sent to some residents of South Windsor and the company apologized for the mistake.

“As part of our effort to respond to our customers and communities requesting more natural gas, we’ve worked for the past three years to make it available in South Windsor,” said Gross. “In cooperation with our communities, we are working on coordinating the schedules for the new installation with our new gas connections in order to minimize the disruption of new roads. Unfortunately, in this case, 71 addresses on Main Street in South Windsor accidentally received a letter referring to the re-paving and a deadline for the cashback offer.

He said Eversource officials reached out to these customers to help clear up the confusion.

“We are in the process of preparing detailed information to share with government officials,” said Gross.

Tong and Sobolewski’s joint PURA filing on Wednesday came when the co-chairs of the General Assembly’s Energy and Technology Committee called for an investigation by the consumer advocacy agency representing the interests of electricity billers.

State Rep. David Arconti, D-Danbury, alleged that Eversource marketed the conversions in a manner that was intimidating and “provides consumers with ambiguous and inaccurate information.”

“Fraudulent marketing is never acceptable,” said Arconti. “I will continue to work to ensure that our fee payers are treated with respect and transparency across the state. Unfortunately, it turns out that we need to keep an eye on utilities to ensure that customers are treated fairly and not just seen as a revenue-generating component of their business. “

Senator Norman Needleman, D-Essex, co-chair of the Energy and Technology Committee, said: “Our utilities must be accountable to the people of our state and misleading the public is unacceptable.”

“If these allegations are true, I request an immediate investigation. If customers have been tricked into investing in something they don’t need, it is a clear sign that something needs to be addressed, ”said Needleman.

One of the reasons the OCC and Tong are seeking an investigation is because installment funds were at play when the decade-long effort to convert natural gas began, Sobolewski said. The money was donated to the Eversource natural gas utility as well as Connecticut Natural Gas and Southern Connecticut Gas to provide a financial safety net for the three utilities to expand their distribution networks into areas that would normally be inoperable. in, he said.

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