Public Service Electric & Gas customers no longer have to worry about the state's largest utility reporting information to a credit agency.
In a settlement with the New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel and the state Board of Public Utilities, the Newark utility agreed to withdraw a proposal to begin reporting payment histories of all residential, commercial, and industrial gas and electric customers to the credit agency Experian.
Early last year, PSE&G, which serves 1.8 million gas customers and 2.2 million electric customers, announced it would begin reporting the information, but had suspended the effort at the request of the Rate Counsel and the BPU.
"The laws of this state are very clear," said Stefanie Brand, director of the Division of Rate Counsel. "PSE&G has no right to disclose individual customer information to a third party without the customer's consent. Today's settlement reaffirms this important consumer protection."
With the settlement, PSE&G customers can rest assured that their confidential information held by the utility will remain private, Brand said.
"Ratepayers have a right to expect that their personal information will not be disseminated by the utilities," Brand said. "This agreement will ensure that it remains confidential."
Under the settlement, PSE&G also agreed to file a petition with the BPU seeking approval prior to reporting current customer account information in the future.
According to a press release issued by the utility, recent reductions in electric and gas prices, combined with additional commitments to energy efficiency and mild winter weather, have reduced energy bills as compared to the past few years. Since January 2009, residential natural gas bills have fallen by 35 percent, largely a result of the discovery of vast new deposits of the fossil fuel in the Marcellus Shale formations in nearby Pennsylvania and New York.
The drop in natural gas prices also has led to a decline in power prices earned by generating stations, which provide electricity to homes and businesses in New Jersey.
PSE&G, like the other utilities in New Jersey, is compensated for unpaid customer bills. There is a surcharge on all ratepayers bills to cover the cost of unpaid bills by customers of the state's four gas and electric utilities.
The state's electric and gas customers also pay an additional surcharge, which helps certain low income residents pay only 6 percent of their total household income to energy bills. Nearly a quarter of a million households rely on state assistance to pay their electric and gas bills.
In the winter of 2011-2012, the state budgeted $313 million for two funds to help homeowners, renters, and others pay their utility bills, a slight increase from the $287.5 million the programs cost the previous year.