October 22, 2018
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After complaints, Maine’s biggest electricity seller faces suspension

Darren Fishell | BDN
Darren Fishell | BDN
Power lines deliver electricity through Enfield in this September 2017 file photo.

Maine regulators have required the state’s largest private electricity seller, Electricity Maine, to tell them why it should be allowed to keep selling in Maine after a rash of complaints about deceptive sales practices.

The company will now have to explain to the Maine Public Utilities Commission why it should be able to keep its license after alleged violations of state consumer protections laws related to electricity sales.

Specifically, regulators have threatened to suspend the company’s license, preventing it from enrolling new customers or re-enrolling existing customers. The company is still able to do business in Maine during the inquiry.

The company has faced numerous complaints of deceptive marketing since receiving its license in 2010, but under the new ownership of the Houston-based Spark Energy has faced complaints that its hired door-to-door sales staff fraudulently posed as Central Maine Power Co. employees.

In a written statement, the company said it “is committed to providing electricity to the residents of Maine in full compliance with all laws and regulations. We look forward to cooperating with the Maine Public Utilities Commission throughout the process.”

[Electricity sellers allegedly posed as CMP auditors to poach customers]

Electricity Maine is the largest of a group of electricity sellers that have cost Mainers millions they did not need to spend on power, charging them roughly $77 million more than if their customers had taken the standard rate from 2012 to 2016.

Those recent complaints prompted the new inquiry from regulators, who earlier this year began asking Spark for explanations of those practices.

The company twice this year told regulators that it suspended its door-to-door campaign in response to the allegations, in order to retrain staff.

Despite that, PUC Commissioner Randall Davis said that complaints around that door-to-door marketing campaign “have not been permanently resolved.”

The company told regulators that its door-to-door effort involved more than 70 salespeople and as of January had brought in 2,355 new customers.

[Read our full series, Power Grab: How private electricity companies cost Mainers $77 million]

The company also faces a class-action lawsuit related to its marketing practices. The attorneys pursuing that case against Electricity Maine have asked to expand the group of affected customers to include those sold electricity during the door-to-door campaign.

In recent court filings, the company objected to that move, arguing that terms of service in effect since last fall bar those new customers from joining a class-action lawsuit and require them to pursue any claims before a third-party arbitrator, instead of a judge.

The Tuesday vote ordered Spark to show cause for keeping its license by Aug. 12. The company may also request a hearing to make its case, in addition to providing its arguments in writing.

Maine Focus is a journalism and community engagement initiative at the Bangor Daily News. Questions? Write to mainefocus@bangordailynews.com.

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