The Light Company By Brenda Ann Eckels, aMGC

Remember when the electric companies of this country were owned and operated either by cities or states, or if a separate company they had certain responsibilities to the citizens of the area as a public utility?  

Then, Ronald Reagan and others in the GOP came up with a great idea to deregulate the electric companies.  After all, we were told, the free market, supply and demand, those kinds of things would make electricity more reliable and cheaper, right?

danger-high-voltage-sign-300pxWRONG!

What it did was take a public necessity, an important utility, and put it in the hands of ever bigger corporate conglomerates.  They became more concerned with keeping stockholders and executives handsomely paid and happy than in any effort to make sure that citizens had cheap, safe, reliable electricity.

 

In this essay….or mini e-book, actually, I present to you the smallest example of a single apparently minor problem.  I illustrate how this one small anomaly, much like the repeating cat in the first Matrix movie, is just a tiny illustration of a much bigger and much more serious problem.  I present my hypothesis of how stopping soulless corporations from running amok without strong, enforced regulations made by people – humans – NOT on the payroll of said corporations is an absolute requirement if we are to ever find our way through the changed climate, global economic crash, and survive:

The story opens on a weekend with a company:

eversource_logo_color

Not only does my electric company, Eversource, want to tear up and destroy a good percentage of the New Hampshire wilderness just so that the customers (and stockholders and executives) in Connecticut can have more electricity, they provide no 24/7 customer service AND have no actual tech support contact for when the website, currently under at least its 10th redesign in less than 2 years, malfunctions.

No matter which state of New England you are in, an Eversource customer must go to the web page and begin the most laborious internet transaction on earth.

  1. You first have to find the Menu
  2. Then you have to click “Pay My Bill”
  3. Next you have to click “Credit Card”
  4. This bring you to a page to read with a warning that Eversource uses Western Union to process credit card payments. If you are a residential customer, you have to pay an extra $2.95 to use your credit or debit card, and if you are an Eversource business customer, you have to pay an extra $7.95. (This is to do the exact same transaction that you can perform at millions of e-commerce sites for free, but that is only one problem.) 

westernunionsucks

Go ahead, Google  “how to hack western union online” and browse through the 7.2 million hits. or take a look at the complaints here and here.

 There is a reason why scam artist and drug dealers use Western Union, and none of them are attractive to a business that is supposedly legitimate like an electric company.

  1. Even though 80% of Eversource residential payments are people who actually LIVE in the NEW ENGLAND area, they picked the same slow as molasses money exchange service used by millions to send paychecks from the US to starving relatives overseas weekly.  Why? I’d like to think it was because Eversource promised Lord Dumpling Dean Kamen he could pay for his New England business Eversource accounts  from his solar and wind self powered secret island mini nation, but in reality it was probably because Western Union gave Eversource the biggest kickbacks out of those transaction fees.
  2. Thanks to Eversource picking the worst possible credit card payment processor for domestic payments, and frequently REQUIRING overdue accounts to bring cash to Western Union locations and pay them via Western Union at -again- exorbitant fees, Eversource ALSO contributes to the misery of non-Eversource customers.  On any given Thursday or Friday you can forget about the site being anything but fast, the courtesy counter at Walmart or Hannaford’s being mobbed, and your ability to get a receipt for your tax audit six months from now non-existent. 

Today, the particular page broken was: https://www.eversource.com/PSNH/Customer/Pay/CreditCardPayment.aspx

This is,actually, a fairly important page

Once you get to this page, it gives you two buttons, one to cancel and one to continue.

lightbulbscientist-300pxHitting to continue brings you into a loop right back to the same page. WHOOPS! Someone in Eversource IT Department made a mistake in the CSS, java, or…*gasp* html!  Can you imagine it?  We have an electric company that at one time had the controls of Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant, and they can’t even program a shopping cart page correctly!

 

Take a look at the pdf copies of the site maps for Eversource Connecticut and  Eversource New HampshireYou will see (besides the lame static 1980’s feel web design itself):

  • How pathetically disorganized Eversource’s websites are. Seriously, Eversource could have gone with WIX and gotten a better interface in much less time.
  • How Connecticut gets more pages and more info than New Hampshire. (They are richer, and more New York Wall Street types live there. However, the debit credit card page is broken for them also, and they don’t get a tech support number or online chat support either.)
  • How they lack the customer service online chat that even the smaller Ebay and Amazon retailers have. (Apparently selling 10 port USB hubs pays much better than a multi state electric company, right?)
  • How there is no tech support contact method at all for when the website does not let you connect to the credit or debit card payment screen. (Having to wait a day to pay for that cool dress on Amazon? No biggie. Having to pay the electric bill before the deadline? Yeah, that’s pretty much a NEED.)
  • How Northern Pass (the tear up the White Mountains plan) gets a single page on the New Hampshire site, even though it is an ongoing #DAPL type issue, complete with OUR NH Native Americans being VERY pissed off. One would think that Connecticut Eversource Customers might want to know that like hell are they going to get Canadian power by steamrolling NH citizens. Connecticut Stockbrokers might need to know that even the Green Party members up here have guns, and under “Stand Your Ground” laws alone we have a lot more leeway than the Sioux Nation did if a bulldozer even starts its engine,  although we are hopeful the peaceful nonviolent approach works and ends this… by Christmas. If the Eversource Stockholders in Connecticut and New York had this information, they might want to bring it up at the next Board meeting…say something like: “Uh, guys, let’s just NOT piss off New Hampshire any more than we have, ok?”

 (And don’t think for a minute Eversource has a 24/7 telephone line staffed by humans. Apparently, we NH citizens didn’t give them a large enough tax break to be able to afford that!)

Like I said, what started as one very small broken website page that prevented one person from paying the electric bill turned out to showcase a bunch of other web design and communication flaws.

However, at this point, it was still fixable flaws.

This could be a simple bipartisan bill that Electricity companies be required to have at a minimum 27/7/365 human customer and tech support via internet chat on the company website.  

This is the least expensive way to provide 24/7/365 human support and it works.  Being able to know 24 or 48 hours ahead of the Monday morning 9am rush at the IT department that you have lost all ability to process credit card payments strikes this retired entrepreneur as a fairly important thing for a utility company like the Light Company to have, but as we see, Eversource and its Executives appeared to have missed this critical bit of Business Management 101, or been seriously preoccupied with something else like PokemonGo, perhaps.

It turned out, however, that my one example has lots of company.  Eversource also has a bunch of subsidiaries like Connecticut Light and Power, NSTAR Electric, PSNH, WMECO, Yankee Gas and NSTAR Gas although most have been “converted to using the Eversource name and logo.  

So, Does ANYONE

In New England DO The Business Of Being

The Light Company RIGHT?

Yep. Eversource has plenty of examples right in their own back yard that do “We’re The Light Company” a  whole lot better.

Here are two examples…

nhecoop_logonhelectcoop_logoCase Study #1: New Hampshire Electric CO-Op  

(NHEC) is a member-owned and controlled electric distributor serving approximately 80,000 members in 115 towns and cities. You want to see an electric company that is serious about transparency and responsibility? Try the NHEC About Us Page, where you can read and download the Independently Audited Financial Report, Read the Annual Report messages from the Executives, and see a bunch of other data, including that they do not have any money going to paid lobbyists.

From the start, NH Electric Co-operative sets a great example of a well designed electric company website.  

  1. Right on page one, top third you instantly see an easy to find Pay My Bill Button AND a nice handy box that tells you in real time if there are any outages, and where they are.
  2. They do not have a live 24/7 human staffed phone number, but they do have several easy to access emails that actually DO connect to humans.  
  3. They are available from 8am to 5pm weekdays – one hour  later than the 9-5 that Eversource lists.  That hour may not seem like much but it means that NHEC members do have the possibility to call in about a billing problem or a broken link on a web page before having to punch in to work.  

That is an excellent start for a company that is MUCH smaller than Eversource in being accessible and responsive to the customers. Just the fact that they are using SmartHub for online payments – a slick, easy to use app for iOS, Android, and that has a web version for desktop users is about three steps up from the Eversource system which uses the previously discussed mess called Western Union.  One reason? SmartHub alone has a techsupport email that if their system goes down you can still get word to them.  

touchstone_greylogo

NH Electric CO-Op also is part of the Touchstone Energy Cooperative Federation.  Think of it like this:  If you are a member of a credit union, and they are royally screwing up, and not providing an effective way to complain and get those complaints addressed, you have the option to call the National Credit Union Administration for help. That is because credit unions (like Electric Co-ops) are member owned and regulated on both the state and federal level mostly by people who are not on any particular credit union (or electric coop) salary.  

Cooperative Electric Companies are non-profits, so they don’t pay business profits tax, but if you look at all the tax breaks, loss carry forwards, and other accounting slight of hand Eversource uses, I can’t find any proof they pay business profits tax either.  At least Cooperatives are up front and do the various filings to not have to pay taxes.  Points for honesty.

hmlp_logo_blackCase Study #2: The Hull, Massachusetts Municipal Light Plant.

Disclaimer: I was a proud Hullonian homeowner, business owner, Chamber of Commerce Member, and owned and operated the very first weekly online news site in Hull. I still consider Hull to be my hometown. I was an early and active supporter of the historic Hull Municipal Light Plant installation of Hull Wind I, the first modern Wind Turbine on the New England Coast. I am therefore inordinately proud of Hull and the HMLP and extremely biased about them, so I will let their own site do most of the talking.
  • mapofhullHull, Massachusetts has approximately 10,200 residents.
  • It is situated south of Boston in Plymouth County, Massachusetts.
  • First settled in 1622, Hull is located on a Peninsula bordered to the west by Massachusetts Bay and Hingham Bay, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east.
  • It is home to Nantasket Beach, the most beautiful beach in New England.

The Town and the Light Plant have won

The Department Of Energy Wind Power Pioneer Award

 

hullwind1_withocean
This is Hull Wind 1, the Wind Turbine I was an active advocate for.  Windmill Point is also home to Hull High School, The Incredible Hull High Theater Arts Program, The MBTA Hull to Boston Commuter Ferry, and a dangerous current you do NOT want to swim in.

HLMP has an Elected Board of Commissioners, filled right now by David Irwin, Chairman
Patrick Cannon, Stephanie Landry, Thomas A. Burns, Daniel Ciccariello.

 

Yes, the website is just a bit clunky, as it is part of the Town of Hull site, but it is packed with everything a customer would need to know, and beats Eversource’s mangled internet mess hands down.

  •  They have online bill pay , with a stable responsible company that is by all appearances inexpensive enough that customers are not charged a processing fee.
  • With one click you can read minutes of board meetings back to 2009. .
  • There are now two land based wind turbines, and lots of info on the website about them.
  • The HMLP has A Solar Energy Program, with downloadable forms available on the site.
  • The HMLP  has a  project to convert the street lights to LED,
  • The rate for electric (residential) is 0.0467 cents/kw/hr (except in the rare circumstances that they have to buy power from the grid (in which case the rate is set by a Massachusetts regulatory structure). 
  • HMLP also came darn close to having a small offshore wind farm.

erlandh-wind-turbine-300pxDid I mention that there are less than 11,000 people in the town?

At the Hull Municipal Light Plant, they have a lovely office with wonderful friendly Hullonians who answer the phone.  Hours are Monday – Thursday, 7:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., Closed Fridays and Holidays

With under 11,000 people on a tiny peninsula, trust me, as soon as there is an outage, the police and fire have the emergency number for HMLP on speed dial, although most of the time the staff live there so they already know.  

There is a volunteer owned and operated online community for the HullWind fanatics with all sorts of great stuff, including the images I added here.

Both the NH Electric Cooperative and The Hull Municipal Light Plant stand as evidence that an Electric company can be very Green, operate efficiently, be responsive to customers needs, have a functional website, NOT charge for debit/credit card transactions, and do it with much less money than Eversource is spending for what amounts to customer service as broken as the credit card billing on their website.

Which begs the question..if much smaller companies can provide functional websites, fee-free credit card processing, and better ways to communicate with customers…

Why is Eversource so bad at such a basic part of its mission as a corporation, never mind the responsibilities of an Electric Company?

 

I found the next answer, and in this 2016 Election Season was certainly not surprised to find out that Eversource also plays a lot of political games, including this past year trying to limit or kill New Hampshire’s expanding rooftop solar power generation, which is of course owned by homeowners, landlords, and *gasp* municipalities.  

NOT fat cat Corporations with horrible customer service.

In 2015, they stacked the Massachusetts Legislatures with lobbyists to fight solar.  

The further back I went, the more New England states I looked at, it was more of this.

Now, lobbyists are NOT cheap.  

So, I went to try to find out how much of Eversource’s

outrageously high rates were actually just going into

paying lobbyists to fight solar power and tear up the NH wilderness.  

For a publicly traded company, it sure wasn’t easy to find THAT number!

However, just from the number of lobbyists used between

Massachusetts and New Hampshire in 2015-2016,

Eversource could have had 24/7/365 human telephone customer support!

powerline1-300pxSo, What Have We Learned Thus Far?

  • Just like much of the 1%, Corporations have no souls, and no morals.

  • The only moral structure Corporations have is the regulations we, the taxpayers, put on them via local, state, and federal government. 

All of this combines into several of the reasons why

no one in New Hampshire with a sane mind is wild about

Northern Pass or any idea Eversource comes up with because if 

  1. Your Company can’t lay a cable right,
  2. Your Company can’t use a service like PayPal to process credit card payments, and
  3. Your Company can’t provide 24/7/365 customer support by humans…

what right do you have to call yourself a Fortune 500 Company,liftarn-electrical-outlet-and-plug-300px

even be allowed IN the Better Business Bureau,

or be allowed to operate heavy machinery in delicate old growth forests?

Could the situation Get Any Worse?  

Sadly, YES!

When you have a complaint nowadays with the Electric Company, it is difficult to get heard or get help because if you can’t get help at the state level, there is almost no help for electricity customers at the federal level, thanks to everyone from Newt Gingrich to Tea Party idiots gutting funding at the federal level for independent, objective, reasonably bribe proof regulators or inspectors.

Here is what NH Customers of Eversource face as just one hurdle to getting better customer service, better rates, and an Electric Company that encourages Solar instead of hiring lobbyists to fight against it:

The regulatory body in NH that oversees what Eversource does and does not do it the New Hampshire Publlic Utilities Commission.  Just try to find a member of the NH Public Utilities Commission who is truly independent.

The NHPUC is composed of three Commissioners appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Executive Council to staggered six year terms. Granted right now we have three really good lawyers, and one is a Veteran, but they are still appointed, not elected, and still stuck in a role where they have power only if the particular governor in office decides to let them.

Thomas C. Frantz is the guy at the NHPUC in charge of Electricity related matters. Here is the strange part: 

  1. There is no bio of him on the NHPUC website.
  2. A Google search turns up nothing about his experience, his past employers, what politicians he donates to, or if he has any investments in any of Eversource’s many subsidiaries.
  3. A Facebook search comes up empty. Oh, there are Tom and Thomas Frantz out there, but not him.
  4. Perhaps he is just a really shy guy who studied law and has an MBA, but no one knows, because you can’t find much more than the fact he is employed at the NHPUC and may be the same Thomas C. Frantz who is in his 60’s and lives in Andover.

What did I find?

  1. Well, one listing at a less respectable site Zoom, that has some links to webpages that he is quoted in and a hopefully incorrect listing that he is with the PUC in Texas...http://www.zoominfo.com/p/Tom-Frantz/143556150 
  2. A blurb from an investor’s web site at  http://investorshub.advfn.com/boards/read_msg.aspx?message_id=57972706,
  3. A fairly useless listing at a national association for PUC officials at  https://members.naruc.org/4DCGI/committees/commissions.html?Action=naruc&naruc_Activity=commissionco&StateAbbrev=NH,
  4. One which makes it seem that the head of the NHPUC doesn’t even talk to his lead electricity guy before going and telling a regional group Northern Pass is a “done deal”http://responsibleenergyaction.com/pages/504.  

Seriously, this is the kind of thing that makes voters increasingly annoyed

– this guy Frantz doesn’t even have a LinkedIn profile, but he’s the guy who we NH Citizens are supposed to trust in handling Eversource and holding them accountable to basic business practices like having a working credit card payment system?

Needless to say, my 15 minutes of web searching had done nothing to convince me Thomas C. Frantz is an actual human being, never mind having any professional experience for his job at the NH Public Utilities Commission.  

He is still pretty much a mystery guy with a lot of taxpayer funded power…then I found one last link – on the Eversource website but buried deep outside the lines of the site map.  

energy-saver-lightbulb-on-300pxThis one is disturbing on multiple levels, but not because of Thomas Frantz.

 It is Eversource, again showing a shockingly bad ability to function as a normal business, never mind a public utility responsible for something as important as electricity.  

The link was to a letter in which some testimony that was redacted by Frantz was in the attachments, but of course the attachments are not included in the pdf of the Eversource lawyer’s verbose, complex, and nearly incomprehensible writing. Take a look:   https://www.eversource.com/Content/docs/default-source/media_relations/agreement_cover_letter.pdf?sfvrsn=0

My best guess?

“Such 3 action would allow Attorney Ross and Director Frantz to participate in the divestiture process in such proceeding on behalf of the Commission without the restrictions of designation under RSA 363:32. Immediately subsequent to such action, the Settling Parties and Staff recommend..”

seems to be saying that Eversource agreed to sell some of its stuff and both Attorney Ross and Thomas were granted some kind of ability to participate.  Does that mean they get to watch an auction?  Read the report? Buy the stuff Eversource is selling off? No idea.

My concern was more that  Atty. Robert A. Bersak knew how to save a letter as a PDF, but not how to save the attachments so they can also be read.  Mind you – this is an EVERSOURCE lawyer, on their payroll.  As the “Chief Regulatory Counsel”.so he is the lead lawyer talking to the NHPUC and other government agencies in New England and the Federal Government.  He can’t save a pdf with attachments correctly? Really?

Perhaps, I thought to myself,  the problems at Eversource are more to do with the poor quality of pre-hire interviews done by Human Resources, and that is why there are no 24/7/365 human customer support lines, broken websites, crappy expensive credit card payment processing companies, and apparently, lawyers who need a primer in how to save pdf’s with attachments.

Here’s the last part of why my inability to pay my electric bill online without (a) finding the website broken, (b) being told I would be raped to the tune of $2.95 for something virtually every other business lets me do at no cost, and (c) that there was no way to even let the IT team at least know they had a broken website resulted in a 4,100 word mini-book:

Q: Why do we now have routine cases of e.coli and salmonella in our food?

A: Because there is no one enforcing what little regulations exist for food handling.  

Q: Why is the Gulf of Mexico still messed up from oil spills years later?

Remember the submitted “disaster plan”? The one with a chapter on how to protect the penguins that don’t exist in the Gulf of Mexico?  

A: There were not enough independent inspectors and regulars to catch that, so when the disaster happened, lots of Gulf animals died, along with a lot of small businesses.

Now, We have the same problem with a vital, necessary, life sustaining basic element that our American society depends on with the same problem of not enough regulation, not enough oversight, and too much free market nonsense for a commodity many of us can not survive without for more than a few days:

Electricity.

This started as one customer not being able to pay her electric bill online for no extra charge with a debit card because of a broken website link.

It became mildly annoying that the customer couldn’t even let the IT people know they HAD a broken link…

…. and turned into a story about how Americans are at serious risk of losing control and access to one of the things many of us take for granted, that many of us would have great difficulty living without if this civil war between the red and blue escalates and gets worse.

There could be a quick happy ending, but it would require that in less than 48 hours millions of Americans change their vote to Green Party.  

 

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