September 19, 2019
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Maine public advocate recommends $1 million penalty for private electricity seller

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

Citing deceptive marketing practices, Maine’s top consumer watchdog agency asked regulators last Friday for stiff penalties against Electricity Maine, the state’s largest private electricity supplier.

The Maine Office of the Public Advocate asked the Maine Public Utilities Commission, which regulates electricity suppliers, to impose a civil penalty of at least $1 million and suspend Electricity Maine’s license to operate for one year.

The public advocate’s office accused Electricity Maine, a competitive electricity supplier based in Auburn, of “extensive misconduct.”

Electricity Maine has been under scrutiny for several years, having faced numerous complaints of deceptive marketing practices since receiving its license in 2010. Those include hiring door-to-door sales staff that allegedly posed as Central Maine Power Co. employees..

“We do not comment on ongoing regulatory proceedings,” said C. Alexis Keene, interim general counsel at Electricity Maine’s parent company, Spark Energy of Houston, Texas.

[How electricity providers siphoned more than $20M from Maine customers]

While a civil penalty of up to $5 million is supported by Maine law, the public advocate said, it is asking for no less than a $1 million penalty.

It also suggested that the penalty funds that are collected be directed toward an educational campaign to improve consumer understanding of the competitive retail market.

Maine adopted a competitive retail market for electricity for all customers with the understanding that markets generally act to lower prices and improve service to customers.

“When rogue actors behave as Electricity Maine has, it undermines consumer confidence and trust in the market, diminishing the potential benefits of the market for everyone,” the public advocate’s office wrote in a letter to the commission.

The public advocate said it hasn’t yet addressed more recent reports that Electricity Maine has been taking improper actions to collect bills from customers and has been re-enrolling customers without following correct procedures.

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

In August, a potential class-action lawsuit involving Electricity Maine was put on a 75-day hiatus as the parties pursue settlement discussions, according to a document filed in federal court.

The case alleges that between 2011 and 2014, Electricity Maine enrolled nearly 200,000 Maine households and small businesses in its electricity-supply services with the promise of substantial cost savings.

The complex case involves more than 220 filings, including amended complaints by the plaintiffs, affidavits supporting the plaintiffs and documents refuting their claims by Electricity Maine and other defendants. The hold on actions on the three-year-old case could bring it a step closer to being settled.

Related: Maine CEP customers paid millions more than default rate

 



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