Electricity billing safeguards approved by Senate

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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Consumer protections that promise more transparent billing and marketing by electricity suppliers in Connecticut unanimously cleared the state Senate on Tuesday.

Lawmakers, hearing hundreds of complaints from irate consumers about sharply higher prices and deceptive marketing, approved legislation directing state regulators to redesign the standard billing format for residential electric customers and to make it easier for customers to quit an electric supplier.

Senate President Pro-Tem Donald Williams said the legislation "moves us forward in a giant way in protecting consumers."

Sen. John McKinney, the minority Republican leader, said the measure is an "attempt to protect consumers from spiking electric rates, especially from third-party suppliers."

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said the legislation provides clarity and certainty for electric customers.

Dozens of suppliers have entered the market since Connecticut deregulated utilities in 1998, with consumers complaining that sharply higher prices followed.

State Attorney General George Jepsen and Consumer Counsel Elin Swan Katz said in January that thousands of customers were being charged 17 cents per kilowatt hour and some nearly 25 cents per kilowatt hour. That's more than double what's paid by customers of Connecticut Light & Power and United Illuminating Co.

The legislation calls for the new bills to display additional account information such as rates, the term and expiration date of current rates and other details. Until bills are redesigned in July 2015, customers will receive a quarterly bill insert containing the information.

The measure also requires utilities to allow customers to change service within 72 hours of their request, reduce early termination fees, require notice of new contract terms and makes other changes.

The bill now heads to the House.

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