On October 23, 2012, the Wyoming legislature’s Corporations Committee reviewed amended legislation designed to, among other things, extend the sunset date for the Office of the Consumer Advocate.
We have a consumer advocate in the state?
If you didn’t know there was someone advocating on your behalf to ensure utility companies weren’t ripping you off, welcome to the club.
One thing we can be sure about when it comes to government is that its overwhelming tendency is to grow and grow. Now, with high spending levels threatened by falling mineral severance tax and federal mineral royalty revenues, government is looking for places to cut.
It should start with the Office of the Consumer Advocate.
Although government might have you believe its bureaucracies can protect consumers from rip offs, they can’t, and we have a perfect example of that right there.
Let me explain.
When I moved here, I called to get the natural gas hooked up at my new place so I could heat my home. We’re not living in the tropics, after all.
Imagine my surprise when the natural gas utility company, Cheyenne Light, Fuel and Power (CLFP) told me that because I didn’t have a payment record with them, I’d have to give them a deposit of $355.
I said, what if I refuse to pay it? They said I wouldn’t get an account. So, in other words, if I refused to give Cheyenne Light Fuel and Power what is essentially a very low interest loan, I wouldn’t be able to heat my home.
Now, $355 is not a hardship for me (although I was outraged at being forced to pay it), however this policy also affects other people, such as university students who come to Wyoming to study. For a student living on student loans or part time work, this is a lot of money. Apparently, this gouging of young people has been going on for years.
There is another problem with CLFP. Seems they were overcharging county residents for years. In fact, it took local reporter Brad Harrington’s investigative power to break the story about how CLFP overcharged thousands of residents about a million dollars over an eight year period — about the same amount of time the consumer advocate has been around.
There are other utility companies that could offer services here. In fact, High West Energy is trying to keep its current customers now that Cheyenne extended the city limits into its territory. However, CLFP is fighting hard to keep its monopoly. After all, it’s hard to force people to pay more when they can go elsewhere.
So, which consumer, exactly, is the Office of the Consumer Advocate protecting? It does nothing about a utility company that seems content to overcharge and even leave people freezing in the dark.
Consumers need protection from utility company monopolies, no doubt about it. But choice in a competitive market is what protects consumers, not bureaucrats. Instead of pretending to do something to protect consumers with yet more bureaucracy, the government should open the market to competition and jettison bureaucracies that fail in their mandate.