HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — Connecticut utility regulators decided the outcome to a years-long investigation into Public Power LLC, a Stamford-based third-party electric supplier, on Wednesday. The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority’s investigation, triggered by a significant increase in customer complaints between 2012 and 2014, found Public Power in violation of a “small number of instances, polices, and requirements.” The electric supplier is ordered to pay a civil penalty of $13,000. Here is the final complete decision voted on by PURA’s commissioners on Wednesday.
“Very good decision,” PURA Vice Chairman, Jack Betkoski III, said in the meeting after he and his fellow commissioners unanimously approved the penalty. “Hopefully it sends a positive message to other suppliers that if you do business fairly and equitably in the state of Connecticut, you’ll stay in business. But if you deviate from that, we’re going to call you to task.”
Connecticut is one of 16 states that have a deregulated electric suppliers market, meant to create competition and provide residents with choice on energy providers. These alternative suppliers often advertise rates that are lower than the standard suppliers, Connecticut Light & Power and The United Illuminating Co. Currently, PURA is investigating several of these companies for allegations including misleading or aggressive solicitation tactics, excessive price increases, and unauthorized switching of a customer’s supplier, known as ‘slamming.’
Public Power, which serviced a height of 116,264 Connecticut customers in 2012, had approximately 500 customer complaints lodged against them between that year and 2014. In the course of the state’s investigation, attorneys from the Office of Consumer Counsel also found that the company had some serious recordkeeping issues. The state asked for records relating to specific customers and their complaints, but Public Power said during the investigation they “had conducted an extensive search” and were “unable to locate them.”
Consumer Counsel Attorney Lauren Bidra, who worked on this case, said that the loss of records is what makes the case unique. “This is PURA’s first hard look at electric supplier recordkeeping.” This violation alone will cost Public Power $10,000 of the $13,000 penalty.
“I think the supplier community will take a look at that,” Consumer Counsel Attorney Joseph Rosenthal added. “It will hopefully spur them to do some record retention improvements. Whether it’ll be enough may depend on how much they have to hide.”
The remaining $3,000 penalty was imposed for ‘slamming,’ or unauthorized switching of a customer’s electric generation supplier.
PURA also noted that since 2013, Public Power, following becoming an affiliate of Crius Energy LLC in 2012, had “Initiated a series of protocols and polices to improve and better monitor its operations.”
We received a statement from Public Power about the PURA investigation:
“Although CT PURA has not yet publicly released its final decision, Public Power is pleased to close this matter, which dates back to 2012. In the more than three years since Public Power joined our portfolio, Crius Energy has put a number of controls in place to reinforce our deep commitment to compliance and transparency. As a result, Public Power delivers extraordinary service and value to nearly a quarter of a million customers throughout the Northeast every day. We look forward to a continued close working relationship with CT PURA as we continue to provide Connecticut consumers with the objective information they need to make an informed energy choice.”
Currently, the Office of Consumer Counsel is investigating other third-party electric suppliers as high instances of customer complaints is a growing trend in the industry. For customers who have tried to take advantage of advertised lower electric rates from these electric suppliers, Rosenthal has recommendations if you think you’ve been overcharged.
“Your best move at that point is to move back to standard service or another supplier with a better rate,” Rosenthal advised. “That’s probably the first thing you should do. If you feel like the rate that you received was inconsistent with the marketing or your contract, you should check your contract and then complain to PURA if you feel there was an inconsistency there.”
For Connecticut residents that receive bills from Eversource Energy or The United Illuminating Co, there has been a change to your bill to help avoid issues such as overcharging that have been becoming increasingly common in the marketplace. Read The Office of Consumer Counsel’s press release with samples of what your new bills should look like to learn more: Consumer Counsel Press Release