The Public Utility Commission adopted rules Friday for the implementation of House Bill 1822, a consumer protection bill from the 2009 legislative session. Sponsored by state Rep. Burt Solomons, HB 1822 calls for establishing definitions of terms commonly used on utility bills. It also requires that retail electric providers (REPs) print on bills the end date of multi-month contracts.

This second requirement emerged as a contentious flash point during negotiations at the PUC. Some retail electric providers expressed discomfort with the specific end-date requirement, arguing instead for the option to print on bills a more general description of the contract end date. PUC staff and consumer groups argued that HB 1822 included a specific mandate requiring that REPs print the exact termination date, and that using a less specific description only would add to customer confusion.

The three PUC commissioners on Friday agreed to give REPs the option of either printing a specific termination date, or of using a more general description of the end date. However, those REPs opting for the broader description also face a new requirement that they waive early termination penalties for up to 60 days before a contract expires, as opposed to the 14 days currently in rules.

The PUC also appeared to agree with some consumer recommendations relating to the use of common billing terms. REPs had requested flexibility to choose between different terms such as “surcharge,” “fee” or “factor” to describe the same billing element. REPs also wanted the option of using either “base charge” or “customer charge” to describe the same element.

Consumer groups argued that the PUC should settle on a single term for each billing element — and that all REPs should then be required to stick to the uniform term. The rules adopted Friday generally follow that recommendation.

The PUC set an April 1 implementation date for the new rules.

— R.A. Dyer

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