In Massachusetts, rates for gas and electricity are subject to approval by the Department of Public Utilities. The Department of Telecommunications and Cable regulates telecommunication and cable companies in the Commonwealth. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission also provides regulatory oversight in the setting of electric and gas rates in Massachusetts, and the Federal Communication Commission oversees telecommunication utilities.
Federal and state regulators are also tasked with ensuring that electric, natural gas, and telecommunication services are safe and reliable. The Energy and Telecommunications Division works on the state and federal levels to ensure that the Commonwealth's utility companies make adequate investments in infrastructure, such as power lines and pipelines, to avoid delivery failures.
Over the next decade, there will be an acute need for improvements to the state and regional electric grids, in particular, which could cost billions of dollars. The Attorney General is responsible for closely monitoring the utilities and their infrastructure improvements so that these investments make our regional electric grid, natural gas and telecommunication service delivery more reliable and more efficient.
In working to protect the interests of Massachusetts utility customers, the Division uses a variety of tools, including: participation in administrative proceedings before the regulatory agencies, negotiation of settlement agreements and litigation, either in state or federal courts. Frequently, the Office appears before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in collaboration with ratepayer advocates throughout New England.
Other Agencies with Energy-Related Missions
The two Massachusetts government entities most heavily involved in energy policies and programs are the DPU and the Department of Energy Resources (DOER). The DPU regulates the electric distribution and natural gas delivery rates charged by the investor-owned public utility companies operating in the Commonwealth. The DOER is tasked with creating a greener energy future through policies that promote cost-effective energy efficiencies and renewable and alternative energy development. The AGO works closely with both of these state agencies as the consumer's representative.
Legislative Action: The Green Communities Act
In July 2008, the Massachusetts Legislature approved, and Governor Patrick signed into law, the Green Communities Act. This law has several components designed to address the Commonwealth's energy needs, and it provides the AGO with these additional tools to represent consumers more effectively in proceedings to establish utility rates:
- It allows the AGO, when approved by the DPU, to utilize professional expert consultants in rate cases. This practice has been commonly used by utility companies but was often unavailable to the AGO due to the cost. Funding for the AGO's use of consultants is now provided by the utility companies, a change that levels the playing field in the most complex proceedings before the DPU.
- The law permits the AGO to gather important information, outside of a formal legal proceeding, regarding utility company practices. The AGO has the right to file up to 15 information requests each month per utility. This allows the AGO greater access to information regarding the rates, charges and service quality of companies subject to regulation by the DPU or the DTC.
- It allows the DPU to audit utility companies and authorizes the AGO to request the DPU to perform an independent audit when the Attorney General believes one is required to protect consumer interests.
- Finally, the law makes the AGO part of the 11-member Energy Efficiency Council within the DPU. The law requires gas and electric distribution companies in the Commonwealth to develop and implement programs to increase energy efficiency. The council is responsible for establishing requirements and approving plans and budgets for these programs.
Nearly all complaints about electric, natural gas and telecommunication companies operating in Massachusetts - their rates, quality of service, etc. - are handled by the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) and the Department of Telecommunications and Cable (DTC). The DPU is responsible for enforcing Massachusetts laws and regulations affecting investor-owned electric and natural gas utilities. The mission of the DPU's Consumer Division is to protect consumers from unjust utility company practices and to monitor the quality of the services they provide.
If you are having a problem with a utility, the DPU recommends that you first contact the utility company and try to resolve the matter. If that does not resolve the issue, contact the DPU through the Online Complaint Form, or call the Consumer Division at (617) 305-3531 or toll-free at 1-800-392-6066.
The AGO shares jurisdiction with the DPU in the area of electric and gas consumer complaints. Residents facing utility shut-offs or who want to report possible fraud or unfair practices should contact the Attorney General's Public Inquiry and Assistance Hotline at (617) 727-8400. The AGO may be able to provide useful information or mediation services to assist in resolving your situation. Please note that the AGO does not have authority over the price of home heating oil or gasoline.