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“Wrong Choice” Can Cost CT Utility Customers 100s per Month

April 1, 2014

HARTFORD, Conn. - It's a familiar pitch: Save money now by switching your utility provider! However, consumer advocates warn that all too often, customers see their bills increase, and they are calling on state lawmakers to take action.

Many of us get such pitches, by phone or in person, and according to John Erlingheuser, advocacy director for AARP Connecticut, there is good reason to be very careful if the pitch includes a promise to lower your electricity rates.

"If you choose the best offer on the market today, and do everything right, you could maybe save $60 a year. If they do something wrong, they could lose several hundred dollars a month," he warned.

He added that seniors tend to use less electricity, so the most older Connecticut residents can save is about $20 a year, and they risk losing a great deal more. A new AARP survey found that nine out of ten customers support giving regulators the resources needed to properly enforce the state's third-party utility market.

Erlingheuser said there are about 30 third-party electric suppliers in the state, and some are more predatory than others in their marketing. He said most have at least one violation against current law for practices that take advantage of customers.

"'Teaser rates' for, like, one month that switches to variable and continues to go up every month; gift cards and restaurant gift certificates to get them in; and the value of all of those things, if there is any value at all, is completely negated with one month's worth of variable rates," he charged.

The survey found widespread support for changing the way alternative electric suppliers can market services. Erlingheuser said there are common-sense solutions available to state lawmakers.

"One of the things we're calling for is a limit on the number of times you could market to a person to once a year, which is a law that just passed in New Jersey."

Ninety percent of those surveyed by AARP said they support requiring suppliers to disclose all costs associated with their prices, including early termination fees and minimum monthly charges.

Survey results are at AARP.org.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - CT