What are Your Rights as a Consumer of Energy or Electricity?
The deregulation of the energy sector in America has given consumers a choice to get an energy supplier offering better terms and service at a lower rate. Does this mean the electricity supplier will not follow regulations or guidelines in supplying power to your area? The answer is an emphatic NO as every deregulated market is governed by rules meant to protect the consumers and energy companies. So, before you switch your energy supplier and enter into a contract, it is better to know your rights and responsibilities. This awareness will help you as a consumer to avoid possible conflicts.
The Rights and Responsibilities of a Consumer
No matter in which state you reside, you have certain rights as a consumer of energy. There are consumer protection laws in every state enforced by the state Public Utility Commission (”PUC”). You may file a complaint against your energy supplier should it violate any of the inalienable rights mentioned below.
The energy supplier should….
- Offer a non-discriminatory service and treat all consumers fairly
- Protect the privacy of your personal information, including your name, address, account number, etc.
- Work with the local utility company to deliver energy and attend to emergency services promptly
- Explain the contract terms and agreement comprising price, length of the contract, fees, cancellation process, and renewal terms
- Provide prior notice about the expiry of the contract as mentioned by the state PUC
- Allow you access to all written documents submitted by you
- Resolve any complaint in a time-bound and fair manner
- Supply energy at the agreed price mentioned in your contract
- Promptly notify you of any changes to your service or bill
- Provide written notice for any disconnection
- Provide service so long as payment is made per the contract terms
In addition to the above-mentioned rights, you may be entitled to specific rights based on the state in which you reside. For example, if you are a New York resident, you have the right to cancel the agreement within three days of receiving it. Similarly, if you happen to be a Texas resident, you may change your customer status to chronic or critical care residential customer. To know about any such rights when your switch energy supplier, check with your state’s PUC. However, with rights come responsibilities that, as a consumer, you ought to uphold. These are related to paying charges as shown on your bills within the due date, contacting the energy supplier should you seek any deferred payment option, and paying extra charges for early termination, disconnection, or late payment as may be required by the contract. Similarly, for the energy supplier, the responsibilities include sending the bills as per the contract in time, charge a deposit amount if the consumer’s credit falls below a designated threshold, and charge consumers for non-payment of bills, of course, within the ambit of the rules constituted by the state PUC.
What happens if there is a Conflict between the Consumer and the Energy Supplier?
In case you think your energy supplier has not complied with the terms and conditions mentioned in the contract, you have the right to reach out to the state PUC and lodge an informal complaint. The PUC may ask you to contact the energy supplier first and resolve the issue. However, if things do not turn the way you think they should, you can escalate the matter. The PUC will get in touch with the energy supplier, investigate the issue, and deliver a verdict. In case you are not happy with the verdict, you may file a formal complaint. Such formal complaints are often then investigated by PUC staff.
The deregulation of the energy sector is a win-win for both the consumer and energy supplier. For you, it allows you to switch your energy supplier based on the optimal quality and price of supply. The rights and responsibilities should be ideally adhered to by both sides, and in case of any conflict proper redressal mechanism can be sought.
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