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The Watchdog: Jan. 27, 2013

George Gombossy

Publication: The Day

Published January 27. 2013 4:00AM

Roula Karavitis of Monroe is one of the more recent victims of Connecticut's electric deregulation program.

Believing the family would save money on its electric bill, last year Karavitis switched from Connecticut Light & Power to North American Power, one of the scores of alternative suppliers in Connecticut.

Karavitis signed up with an introductory rate of 6.99 cents per kwh, which was promised for "up to three months."

The operative words are "up to."

The first month the family did receive the advertised rate, which was cheaper than CL&P's 8.279 cent rate.

The following month, according to the complaint Karavitis sent the state attorney general's office and to CtWatchdog, the rate jumped to over 10 cents per kwh.

"The whole point of offering separate generation services is to create competition and lower rates for the consumers," Karavitis wrote to North American Power. "Your company is practicing in bait and switch tactics. As a competitor, your variable rate should never be higher than the local utility. Otherwise, there is no point in having other companies offer generation services."

Karavitis then asked to be switched back to CL&P.

While the idea for competition was to result in rates lower than what the two major electric utilities could charge, it hasn't turned out that way.

Starting Jan. 1 this year, both CL&P and UI have lowered their generation rate making it even more difficult for alternative suppliers to beat their prices.

CL&P's residential rate is 7.615 cents per kwh for the first six months of the year. UI's rate is 7.697 cents per kwh for the rest of the year.

An easy way to check whether you can beat the price that CL&P and UI charge is by going to www.ctenergyinfo.com and comparing prices.

Before switching to an alternative supplier check to see whether the rates are fixed and for how long. If they are variable, you are rolling the dice. Also check to see if there is a fee to be transferred back to UI or CL&P if you are not satisfied.

Some alternative suppliers will try to induce you by giving you "free" airline points or other bonuses. Keep in mind that nothing is free.

North American Power did not respond to my request for a comment. So I called the company as a consumer seeking their rates. I talked with Robert who told me that the introductory rate is 6.99 per kwh and he did make it clear that it was only for one month.

However, he said that the rate would probably drop later in the winter. That seems somewhat unlikely since customers with North American longer than one month are now paying 10.99 cents per kwh, according to the state website.

Relatively few people have filed complaints with the state attorney general's office or with the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority against alternative suppliers.

According to Susan Kinsman, spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, PURA received 341 complaints (including 10 forwarded from the attorney general's office) since last June. Of those, 43 complaints were against North American Power and 14 involved billing disputes.

You can reach The Watchdog at george@ctwatchdog.com and www.ctwatchdog.com.

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