A member of the plumbing-heating-Cooling Contractors-National Association told a House subcommittee in late July that more and more small businesses will disappear if the proposed electric utility deregulation allows utilities to compete unfairly.

PHCC member Laurie Crigler testified before the Regulatory and Paperwork Reduction Subcommittee that utilities throughout the country need to be put on the same playing field as small service companies.

“The utilities should have to build their own reputations and customer bases for this new enterprise, and not draw from a list of utility customers which provides on utility usage,” said Crigler, whose company sells and installs plumbing products in new residential and light commercial buildings. “That’s not a level playing field. If they want to compete, they need to train their people, equip their people and market their people all by themselves, without the aid of someone else’s money.”

Crigler, owner of Aroda, Va.-based L&D Associates Inc., spoke to Congress on behalf of her company, the PHCC-NA and the National Alliance for Fair Competition (NAFC). She said the haste to keep and add new customers by utilities compromises the safety, health and welfare of the very customers they are trying to service.

“Many utilities are trying to be everything to everyone,” added Crigler. “They are looking for any avenue to get into people’s homes. There is the very real danger that utilities are using, and will continue to use, ratepayer funds to subsidize these new facets of their businesses.”

Crigler said she is not against competition in the energy market. “If Congress wants to bring more competition to the energy market, simply deregulating the utilities will not do it. The utilities must also be de-monopolized as well.”

The current plans for deregulation lack sufficient provisions to stop utility companies from using ratepayer funds to finance their expanded, competitive services. This gives utilities an unfair business advantage over its competitors. The utilities have customer profiles, records on customer energy usage and name recognition that small business owners either don’t have or took years to create.

“The electric consumers of Virginia did not finance my good name and reputation,” Crigler said. “I earned it myself. The consumers recognize and appreciate the high level of skill and professionalism my company displays.”