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Two of the largest electric utility companies in New England have been hit with a proposed class action lawsuit alleging they engaged in a scheme to overcharge customers billions of dollars on their gas and electricity bills in a years’ long scheme.

Six plaintiffs filed the class action lawsuit Tuesday in Massachusetts federal court against Avangrid, Inc. and Eversource Energy, subsidiaries of Central Maine Power. The complaint alleges the companies’ actions caused at least 7.1 million retail electricity customers in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont to incur overcharges upwards of $3.6 billion from 2013 to 2016.

Eversource, Avangrid and their subsidiary utility companies have a significant share of the New England natural gas market. Allegedly, the companies used this position to purposely restrict natural gas supplies and artificially increase the price of natural gas paid by power plants that burn gas to generate electricity. Because most of New England’s electricity is generated using natural gas, this scheme inflated the price of electricity paid by most New England residents, and thereby boosting their profits.

“Through their natural gas business, Defendants each engaged in an anti-competitive scheme to reduce natural gas supplies and increase natural gas prices, particularly during the coldest months of the year. Through their manipulation of regional natural gas prices, Defendant were able to – and did – artificially inflate and maintain the price of electricity paid by all consumers in New England,” the lawsuit states.

The Eversource/Avangrid Utility Antitrust class action lawsuit points out a report released last month by the New York City-based Environmental Defense Fund, claiming the two utility companies regularly reserved more pipeline capacity than they known they needed, planning all the while to cancel their reservations at the last minute when it was too late for other market participants to use the newly-created capacity to meet unfilled natural gas demand.

“Defendants used their position of power over a key market supply conduit to alter the market’s otherwise competitive balance between supply and demand,” the lawsuit contends.

Specifically, each of the six named plaintiffs claim they purchased electricity from either Eversource, Avangrid, or from their subsidiaries and was forced to pay artificially inflated prices for electricity because the companies unlawfully raised its prices by at least 20 percent, according to the complaint.

The plaintiffs seek to represent a class of electricity consumers in the six states as well as six subclasses of consumers in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont. They are seeking injunctive relief under state antitrust, unfair competition, and consumer protection laws.

The law firm Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro is representing the six plaintiffs and the proposed class.

The Eversource/Avangrid Utility Antitrust Class Action Lawsuit is Scott Breiding et al. v. Eversource Energy and Avangrid, Inc., Case No. 1:17-cv-12274, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

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