BOSTON — Attorney General Maura Healey is calling on state regulators to expand an investigation of retail energy suppliers, alleging that the burgeoning market is actually leading to larger bills for low-income residents.
Healey, a Democrat, accuses retail energy companies of using high-pressure tactics and deceptive door-to-door marketing to dupe largely poor and elderly consumers into switching to a new supplier that ultimately charges them more for electricity or natural gas.
Her office has asked the state Department of Public Utilities to investigate the impact of the retail energy market on low-income consumers and the programs that are designed to help them.
“For too long, our office has seen low-income residents in Massachusetts targeted by competitive suppliers and overcharged by millions of dollars on their electric bills,” Healey said in a statement. “These jacked-up costs harm not only these customers but also all of our state’s ratepayers, and weaken our low-income support programs.”
Retail energy suppliers started popping up in the late 1990s after the state deregulated the electricity market.
Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll is one of a dozen local officials who have called for stepped up oversight.
“Competitive suppliers regularly target our communities with misleading and deceptive marketing,” Driscoll and other municipal officials wrote in a filing with state regulators. “We hear most often from elderly residents, who are particularly vulnerable. Sadly, the deceptive marketing is very effective.”
Statewide, an estimated 500,000 residents buy electricity or gas in the competitive supplier market, according to Healey’s office.
Many of those who who’ve made the switch end up paying more, Healey alleges.
Between July 2015 and June 2018, low-income customers who switched to competitive electric suppliers paid about $57 million more than they would have paid if they had kept their old service, according to a 2018 report commissioned by Healey’s office.