The Department of Public Utility Control (DPUC) was looking for a way to inform and educate consumers about the current status of electric restructuring. DPUC would have to develop, either in-house or outsourced, a process to meet the immediate consumer education and outreach needs and goals.
In 1998, legislation was passed to deregulate electric generation within the state of Connecticut. In that same year, DPUC’s Consumer Education and Outreach Program (CEOP) was established with a mission to inform Connecticut consumers about the current status of electric restructuring. Although transmission and distribution will continue to be regulated by DPUC, consumers need to know that they have the ability to choose their electric generator in a deregulated, competitive marketplace.
Furthermore, consumers need to have enough knowledge to understand the new energy marketplace to make an educated choice. As the success in meeting the legislation depends to a significant degree upon the readiness and willingness of Connecticut citizens and businesses to change their understanding of how they purchase electricity, a comprehensive communications campaign was required to adequately educate consumers about electric choice. DPUC contracted with CERC to provide counsel and recommend a process to meet the immediate consumer education and outreach needs and goals.
DPUC CEOP is committed to keeping consumers informed about the current status of deregulation in the state of Connecticut, but the track record shows that consumers are apathetic about change and the need to make a decision, mostly because a decision is not yet required. A deadline established by the state was recently extended three years. In addition, consumers have not yet been adequately courted by the competition with competitive rates. Research also indicated several barriers to success, including recent rolling blackouts in California, the Enron scandal, capacity concerns, reliability concerns and a general lack of understanding of current rate structures and energy costs.
Based on consideration of the program’s needs, goals and available resources, CERC developed a communications plan and outlined cost-effective tactics to get the message out to numerous audiences. CERC’s team facilitated focus groups to determine goals, audiences, messages and delivery vehicles; developed a marketing and tactical implementation plan; managed the development of a consumer-friendly Web site, meeting state and ADA requirements; and recommended implementation of an outreach strategy, leveraging partnership opportunities.
CERC’s recommended implementation plan includes measures to determine its effectiveness. Outcomes can be determined only after the implementation and measurement of these tactics. Research measurements are expected in late 2004, though some statistics are available now. The program began in November 2003 with a direct mailing to 2,500 multiplier organizations, which generated an increase in Web site activity of approximately 10 percent and an increase in call center activity by approximately five percent. This was followed by a utility bill inserts reaching all 1.6 million residential rate payers in December. A December press conference generated articles in nine Connecticut newspapers, reaching more than 415,000 residents and business people.