LACONIA — Representative Robert Fisher (R-Laconia/Belmont), who is serving his first term in the New Hampshire House of Representatives, claimed a share of the scalp of Eversource — formerly Public Service of N.H. — last week when the state's largest public utility announced it would suspend and review its policy of requiring extra deposits from customers in arrears.
Fisher said yesterday that he began fielding complaints from constituents last winter, when electric rates rose sharply, then found himself behind in his own monthly bills and pressed to pay a deposit. He turned to an administrative rule that stipulated that in place of a deposit Eversource could "accept the irrevocable written guarantee of a responsible party such as a social service organization, a municipal welfare agency, a bank, or a customer in good standing of the utility as a surety for a customer service account."
Eversource rejected Fisher's offer of a guarantee of a customer — his brother — on the grounds that although he had no history of delinquent balances, he had only been a customer for two months. He appealed to the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which last month upheld the company's decision. "They are making up the rules as they go along," Fisher said, claiming that "the PUC is complicit in not enforcing the rules and not making sure people get the protection afforded by the law."
Meanwhile, Fisher said that WMUR-TV reported and Eversource confirmed that the company had requested deposits of 17,000 customers through August, 2015, 40 percent more for the same period in 2014. In the 1990s the company began requesting deposits equal to two monthly bills from customers sent seven or more disconnect notices in a 12-month period in order to shrink write-offs born by all customers and in 2012 reduced the number of required disconnect notices to four. Fisher said that constituents reported requests from deposits ranging between $200 and $1,500. He said that he suspected the report by WMUR-TV prompted Eversource to suspend its policy.
Last week Eversource announced that until April 1, 2016 it would neither seek deposits from residential customers in arrears nor disconnect customers for failing to pay deposits while waiving all outstanding deposits. The company said that it would use the time "to consider the most appropriate and fair method of working with habitually delinquent customers moving forward."
"I'm very happy with the company's announcement and glad to see some relief for customers," said Fisher. "I'm looking forward to the company's decision in April."
In the meantime, Fisher and fellow Representative Nick Zaricki (R-Goffstown) have introduced legislation to restrict the use of deposits. Fisher's bill would prohibit what he called "midstream deposit requests", or those made of customers after they bring their accounts current as a precaution against them again falling in arrears in the future. Zaricki's bill would cap the amount of deposits, which currently cannot exceed the charges for the two months of greatest use as measured by monthly billings.
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