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Jan 16

Cape Light Compact wraps year of advocacy, transitions

Cape Light Compact wraps year of advocacy, transitions

Jan 14, 2018

Geoff Spillane

http://www.capecodtimes.com/news/20180114/cape-light-compact-wraps-year-of-advocacy-transitions

SOUTH YARMOUTH — The Cape Light Compact has spent much of the last year advocating for ratepayer’s rights in cases of proposed utility price hikes and new state regulations, even as it has transitioned to a new independent operational structure since ending its administrative and fiscal agent arrangement with Barnstable County midyear.

The compact, which serves approximately 139,000 customers in all 21 towns on Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard, was created in 1997 to buy power in bulk for customers, provide energy efficiency programs for local residents and businesses and advocate for ratepayers.

Last week, the compact filed an appeal challenging a Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities ruling that would no longer automatically enroll new electric customers on the Cape and Martha’s Vineyard into the compact’s programs.

The order, issued last year, intends to ensure that participation in an aggregation program is voluntary and consumers have the right to opt-out. It mandates that new electric customers, unless they have preciously informed Eversource that they want to be a part of the local aggregation program, be placed on the utility’s basic service plan. This would mean electric customers on the Cape and Vineyard would have to make a concerted effort to become a customer of the regional aggregator.

The compact is appealing the order for due process, since it was not provided the opportunity to be heard in the decision-making process.

“It will lead to customer confusion,” said Margaret Downey, executive director of the compact. “We want customers to be knowledgeable, but in a fair and equitable manner.”

According the appeal, the compact does not object to changes that enhance the voluntary nature of municipal aggregation, but there are technical issues that have not been addressed; it seeks a technical session with the DPU to work on them.

A change in the enrollment process would likely have a negative financial impact on the compact and its customers and increase the administrative workload of the compact to reach out to these new customers, according to the compact.

“I think consumers always benefit through notification, and if the compact is required to notify customers when they join Eversource service that is a good thing,” said Christopher Powicki, a renewable energy advocate and frequent critic of the compact. “In the notification, the compact has the opportunity to talk about its energy efficiency programs to educate new consumers and the benefits of participation. I think not informing customers is counterintuitive to consumer advocacy.”

The compact has also been deeply involved in efforts to soften the blow of a proposed $56 million rate hike by Eversource.

“Fighting the Eversource rate case was a huge effort for Cape Light Compact in 2017,” Downey said during an interview at the organization’s new South Yarmouth offices on Thursday.

The compact’s ratepayer advocacy efforts, which included filing legal arguments and briefs against the increase and participating in DPU public hearings, have paid off.

When the DPU issued its order in the rate case in December, it gave Eversource approval to only raise its annual electric revenues by $12.2 million, a 78 percent decrease in the amount the utility had initially requested.

The rate hike could be decreased further in coming weeks, once Eversource takes into consideration the impact of the new federal tax bill signed into law last month.

The compact also successfully argued to the DPU to have stakeholder involvement with Eversource energy storage projects on the Vineyard and in Wellfleet, raise the utility’s low-income discount rate to a consistent 36 percent, and reduce proposed increases to monthly customer charges.

It also had a significant impact in the DPU’s decision to deny Eversource’s request to consolidate commercial and industrial rates, to the point the DPU referenced a Cape Light Compact brief, advocating for seasonal businesses on the Cape and Vineyard, in its decision.

 

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