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Massachusetts Consumer Protection Rules

Massachusetts Consumer Protection Rules


Chapter 164: Section 1F. Consumer protections; rules and regulations.

(4) (i) The department shall require that distribution companies provide discounted rates for low income customers comparable to the low-income discount rate in effect prior to March 1, 1998. Said discount shall be in addition to any reduction in rates that becomes effective pursuant to said subsection (b) of said section 1B on March 1, 1998, and to any subsequent rate reductions provided by a distribution company after said date pursuant to said subsection. The cost of such discounts shall be included in the rates charged to all other customers of a distribution company. Each distribution company shall guarantee payment to the generation supplier for all power sold to low-income customers at said discounted rates. Eligibility for the discount rates established herein shall be established upon verification of a low-income customer's receipt of any means tested public benefit, or verification of eligibility for the low-income home energy assistance program, or its successor program, for which eligibility does not exceed 175 per cent of the federal poverty level based on a household's gross income. Said public benefits may include, but are not limited to, assistance which provides cash, housing, food, or medical care, including, but not limited to, transitional assistance for needy families, supplemental security income, emergency assistance to elders, disabled, and children, food stamps, public housing, federally-subsidized or state-subsidized housing, the low-income home energy assistance program, veterans' benefits, and similar benefits. The division of energy resources shall make available to distribution companies the eligibility guidelines for said public benefit programs. Each distribution company shall conduct substantial outreach efforts to make said low-income discount available to eligible customers and shall report to said division, at least annually, as to its outreach activities and results. Outreach may include establishing an automated program of matching customer accounts with lists of recipients of said means tested public benefit programs and based on the results of said matching program, to presumptively offer a low-income discount rate to eligible customers so identified; provided, however, that the distribution company, within 60 days of said presumptive enrollment, informs any such low-income customer of said presumptive enrollment and all rights and obligations of a customer under said program, including the right to withdraw from said program without penalty.

Not later than March 1, 1999 the department shall conduct an investigation and report to the joint committee on government regulations regarding the cost and benefits of expanding eligibility for the discount rates established in clause (i) of subparagraph

(4) of the first paragraph of section 1F to any low-income customer who is eligible for any means tested public benefit for which eligibility does not exceed 175 per cent of the federal poverty level based on gross household income. The department shall further provide to said committee any legislative recommendations necessary to implement this section.

(ii) Prior to the termination of the seven year period of the standard service transition rate, the department shall, in consultation with said division, evaluate the effects of electricity restructuring on the affordability of electric power for low-income customers. The department shall make recommendations to the general court relative to the continuation of the low-income discount rate authorized pursuant to this subsection or to make modifications thereto. The department shall, in its recommendations, consider whether or not to modify said discount by establishing a sliding scale low-income discount program.

(iii) A residential customer eligible for low-income discount rates shall receive the service on demand and may return to standard offer service at any time including from default service. Each distribution company shall periodically notify all customers of the availability of and method of obtaining low-income discount rates and standard offer service. An existing residential customer eligible for low-income discount on the date of start of retail access who orders service for the first time from a distribution company shall be offered standard offer service by that distribution company. A residential customer eligible for low-income discount receiving standard offer service shall be allowed to retain standard offer service upon moving within the service territory of a distribution company.

(iv) There shall be no charge to any residential customer for initiating or terminating low-income discount rates, default service, or standard offer service when said initiation or termination request is made after a regular meter reading has occurred and the customer is in receipt of the results of said reading. A distribution company may impose a reasonable charge, as set by the department through regulation, for initiating or terminating low-income discount rates, default service, or standard offer service when a customer does not make such an initiation or termination request upon the receipt of said results and prior to the receipt of the next regularly scheduled meter reading. For purposes of this subsection, there shall be a regular meter reading conducted of every residential account no less often than once every two months. Notwithstanding the foregoing, there shall be no charge when the initiation or termination is involuntary on the part of the customer.

(5) (i) Before service is initiated by a generation company, aggregator, or supplier to any customer, the generation company, aggregator, or supplier shall disclose information on rates and other information to a customer in a written statement which the customer may retain. The department shall promulgate rules and regulations prescribing the form, content, and distribution of such information to be disclosed, which shall include, but not be limited to, the following: the disclosure of the rate to be charged; whether the generation company or supplier operates under collective bargaining agreements and whether such generation company or supplier operates with employees hired as replacements during the course of a labor dispute; any charges, fees, penalties, or other conditions imposed upon a customer should he or she choose to purchase power from another generation company, aggregator, or supplier during the term specified in the contract; the fuel mix and emissions of the generation sources; whether a credit agency will be contacted; deposit requirements and the interest paid on deposits; due date of bills and all consequences of late payment; consumer rights where a bill is estimated; consumer rights of third-party billing and like arrangements; consumer rights to deferred payment arrangements; low-income rates; limits, if any, on warranty and damages; the applicable provisions of this section; the provisions for default service; a toll-free telephone number for service complaints; any other fees, charges, or penalties; and the methods by which a consumer shall be notified of any changes to any of these items. A generation company, a supplier, or an aggregator licensed by the department to do business in the commonwealth pursuant to this section shall prepare an information booklet describing a customer's rights under the provisions of this chapter. Such company, supplier, or aggregator shall annually mail this booklet to its customers.