The Senate has passed legislation sponsored by Sen. Roger A. Picard on behalf of Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee to hold electric and gas utilities to customer service standards.

The bill (2018-S 2332), which passed the Senate yesterday and now heads to the House of Representatives, would require that all public utilities that provide electricity or gas service to 100,000 or more customers to provide prompt and adequate service to their ratepayers relating to new service and service upgrades, and would make violations subject to penalties of up to $1,000 per violation. The bill would require the Public Utilities Commission to establish appropriate customer service standards. It would allow the PUC to address the performance of the utility as part of any rate increase request review, and to require improved performance. It would also allow consumers to file complaints about service with the PUC, which the PUC could investigate.

Additionally, the bill would require electric distribution companies to provide written estimates, upon request, in advance for any work exceeding $500, and itemized bills for work performed for any fee payable by the ratepayer.

Senator Picard said the bill is particularly important for businesses development, because businesses struggle to succeed or expand when they face delays in getting or changing utility services, or can’t accurately predict the costs of such services.

“Utility customers should be able to expect a reasonable level of customer service from their gas and electric companies. For businesses, timely and predictable service is particularly critical, because delays mean higher costs and sometimes slower hiring. If service costs considerably more than the company expected, it can also be a big problem, especially for small businesses.  A guarantee of timely, decent service from utilities is necessary for business development and consumers alike,” said Senator Picard (D-Dist. 20, Woonsocket, Cumberland).

Said Lt. Gov. McKee, “We are one step closer to holding the utility company to a higher standard and expanding consumer choice in the energy market. Our state’s families and small businesses have made it clear that more responsiveness from the utility company and lower energy costs are a top priority. It’s our job to deliver. I thank the Senate for joining me to protect electric consumers and lessen the burden of high energy costs across our state.”

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives, where Rep. Deborah Ruggiero is sponsoring companion legislation (2018-H 7132).

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