Donovan bill prohibits oil companies from fining customers

PORTSMOUTH, R.I. — When temperatures plunged to the single digits this January, many Rhode Islanders waited days for heating oil deliveries as oil companies struggled to keep up with the demand.

On top of the chilly and damaging prospect of running out of oil, some Rhode Islanders faced another dilemma: their oil delivery contract contains a clause that would impose a stiff penalty if they bought oil from any other company. So when their company did not deliver for days on end, they faced the prospect of either running out or paying hundreds of dollars in penalties for a situation outside their control.

Rep. Susan R. Donovan has filed legislation to protect Rhode Islanders with home heating oil contracts from being penalized for buying oil from another company if their own oil company fails to make a delivery within 24 hours of their request.

“No one should be penalized for doing what they need to do to keep their family warm and their pipes from freezing. If an oil company can’t deliver within a reasonable timeframe, it shouldn’t be allowed to fine its customers hundreds of dollars for finding another company that will.

“Heating oil is a necessity, and Rhode Islanders should not be put at risk for running out because they can’t afford the penalty their company will charge them when it fails to do its part,” said Representative Donovan (D-Dist. 69, Bristol, Portsmouth).

The legislation (2018-H 7780) would compel home heating oil dealers to deliver oil within 24 hours of a contract customer’s request, or waive any charge to the customer for buying oil from another source.

Representative Donavan said she introduced the legislation after getting a phone call about an elderly woman who had been waiting days for a delivery from her oil company, and was afraid of running out of oil, but also couldn’t afford the $400 penalty the company would charge her for buying it elsewhere.

“These penalties have a chilling effect – both literally and figuratively – on customers, particularly those at the lower end of the income scale who can least afford to pay them. Some feel they have no other choice but to turn their heat way down and hope the oil company gets there before they run out, rather than to turn to a competing company. These penalties are totally unfair to consumers. It’s the oil company that’s failing to do its job. Why should its customers be fined, on top of being left in the cold?” said Representative Donovan.

The legislation is cosponsored by Rep. Gregg Amore (D-Dist. 65, East Providence), Rep. Lauren H. Carson (D-Dist. 75, Newport), Rep. Katherine S. Kazarian (D-Dist. 63, East Providence) and Rep. Christopher R. Blazejewski (D-Dist. 2, Providence). 

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