The Senate Commerce Committee this afternoon passed SB 197 regulating guaranteed price plans and prepaid contracts for heating oil, kerosene, and liquefied natural gas. The Committee recommended an ought to pass motion by a vote of 3-1 on the bill prime sponsored by Senator Molly Kelly.
“This bill is a positive move for both consumers and businesses,” said Kelly. “We will provide greater protections for consumers that enter into prepaid contracts and allow the industry to maintain its reputation after a few recent and unfortunate calamities”
Senate Bill 197 was a collaborative effort on the part of the Attorney General’s Office and the New Hampshire Oil Heat Council that, among other measures, establishes a provision where companies offering prepaid contracts for heating fuel may reserve funds equivalent to 75 percent of the total amount of prepaid balances in an escrow account with the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office named as beneficiary. The provision will allow for the potential recovery of money prepaid by the consumer should a company become insolvent and renege on its obligation to provide oil outlined in a contract.
“I am thrilled that the industry was willing to come to the table to agree to this important measure to protect our consumers,” Kelly further stated. “It was important to me that we took this step after hearing from the consumers in my district that fell victim to such unfortunate circumstances. This is a serious problem that needs to be addressed in a timely manner in order to protect both consumers and fuel distributors and prevent further losses to both parties.”
In late February, a Keene-based energy company went out of business leaving dozens of customers, including several school districts, without the heating oil that they had prepaid for. Similar situations have arisen throughout different areas of the state in recent years resulting in significant financial loss to hundreds of consumers.
A similar bill – HB 581 – was retained in the House earlier this year. However, Senator Kelly testified that the issue was so pervasive and relevant to present happenings that she felt compelled to revisit it immediately. Senate President Peter Bragdon agreed to the subsequent late introduction of the bill past the filing deadline.
“I am hopeful that we can pass this bill into law and avoid these kinds of scenarios for New Hampshireconsumers in the future,” added Kelly. “It is incumbent on all of us to work together to protect our consumers and make doing business in New Hampshire reliable.”