Wu officials join push to ban ‘predatory’ electrical providers

If there’s one thing outgoing cabinet chief Mariama White-Hammond hopes to complete before she leaves her post in April, it’s eliminating third-party electrical suppliers who are well known for going door-to-door using high-pressure tactics on vulnerable residents.

White-Hammond, who is the chief of Environment, Energy, and Open Space, calls them “predatory.”

State law enacted almost 30 years ago allows for residential and commercial consumers to have choices beyond the standard electrical provider, now Eversource, to promote competition and, perhaps, lower bills. But officials like White-Hammond say the third-party companies have instead taken advantage of people, particularly new arrivals and the elderly.

“They go after people susceptible to being tricked,” said White-Hammond, a Dorchester resident. “It’s dishonest and what’s most depressing about it is they focus on the people who can least afford it. That’s why I call them predatory…The fact they are going specifically into Black and Brown neighborhoods, to recently arrived immigrants, to senior citizens, and to low-income families, that is despicable. I don’t see them downtown. I don’t see them knocking doors on Beacon Hill. If they did, maybe you would see more elected officials on the same page about this.”

White-Hammond’s advocacy comes on the heels of an Op-Ed column by Mayor Wu and state Attorney General Andrea Campbell in the Boston Globe about seeking a statutory remedy to the problem.

“We are really challenging their ability to operate in the residential space,” she said. “These suppliers don’t sell those same products to these [commercial]) companies that they sell at the doors in the neighborhoods.”

According to statistics gathered by the attorney general’s office and the city, Boston residents often pay more to competitive suppliers than they would if they had stayed on basic service. In September 2020, Boston residents paid $100 million more to these companies than they would have if they had stayed on basic Eversource service.

State Rep. Russell Holmes said he often sees these companies operating in his neighborhood. He pointed to a study done in 2019 by then-Attorney General Maura Healey. That report identified more than 500,000 residents in Boston and in Gateway Cities who had changed providers and paid millions of dollars over what they would have paid with their existing service.

That report, however, was not followed up with legislative action, Holmes said.

“This is something the attorney general has proven and here we are five years later still fighting the same fight,” he said. “I can’t understand why this is able to continue after the attorney general’s report five years ago. She put the hammer down on these folks, and you’d have thought it would have driven them out, but apparently it didn’t.”

White-Hammond said there is a bill now in the Legislature’s Telecommunications, Utility and Energy Committee filed by Lynn state Sen. Brendan Crighton and South End/Dorchester state Rep. John Moran that would end third party operations in the residential market.

But she warned, “We’re up against a formidable opponent. They have all the top lobbyists working for them and that’s why I say it’s important we come together on our side.”

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