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The 190th General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Section 11D: Consumer education; telephone hotline; plan approval

Section 11D. To enable retail customers to realize savings from electric utility restructuring, the commissioner, in consultation with local and state-wide consumer groups, is hereby authorized and directed to undertake activities, subject to appropriation, to assist consumers in understanding and evaluating their rights and choices with respect to retail electricity supplies and related services offered as a benefit of said restructuring. Said activities shall provide consumers with information that provides a consistent and reliable basis for comparing products and services offered in the electricity market and shall develop said activities in cooperation with the attorney general to assist in the detection and avoidance of unfair or deceptive marketing practices. Said activities may include, but shall not be limited to, (i) development of consumer education materials, including billing inserts, providing consumers with information in a clear and consistent manner empowering consumers to select their own electricity suppliers and products based on individual preferences, such as price, resource type, and environmental considerations and 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; (ii) collection and dissemination of accurate and comparable information derived from the uniform disclosure labeling system which shall identify, at a minimum, the price of power generation, the length and kind of contract, the mix of fuel and power generation sources, and the level of air emissions.

The department may establish and advertise a toll-free telephone hotline that shall be capable of responding to consumer questions and complaints about their electricity service and the transition to a competitive retail electricity market. The administration of any such hotline and consumer response service so established shall be coordinated with the department of public utilities and the office of the attorney general in order to prevent the duplication of similar services. The information made available to consumers by said hotline shall be fully coordinated and consistent with the information made available to consumers by said department of public utilities and the office of the attorney general. Said hotline and consumer response services, or any portions thereof, may be contracted to third parties, provided that any such contracts shall be performance-based and subject to approval by the secretary of administration and finance. Any such hotline and consumer response administered by the department, the department of public utilities or any contracted party is hereby prohibited from promoting, endorsing or encouraging consumers to select or purchase from a particular provider, supplier, aggregator, broker or other purveyor of electricity and related services.

Consumer education activities proposed to be undertaken by the department pursuant to this section for a subsequent fiscal year shall be described in a plan to be submitted to the department of public utilities for review and approval no later than February 1 of each year. Said plan shall include a projected budget, including revenues sources, for the activities proposed by said plan that explains the basis for all costs and cost increases over the plan then in effect. The department of public utilities, in reviewing said plan for approval, shall establish that said activities of the department are not duplicative and that the information made available to consumers thereby is consistent with the status of utility restructuring. Said plan shall also be submitted to the house and senate committees on ways and means and the joint committee on telecommunications, utilities and energy. The department shall recommend in the plan the termination of activities that are no longer necessary due to the status of utility restructuring or in the public interest. Said plan shall recommend the provision of services funded by the commonwealth through the department only to the extent that the private market cannot or does not adequately meet the information needs of retail customers as determined by said department pursuant to section 11E.