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Texas Staff Seek to Revoke Retail Electric Provider's Certificate for "More Than 1,000" Alleged Violations, Including Alleged Disconnect Violations

September 17, 2013

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Copyright 2010-13
Reporting by Paul Ring •

Staff of the Public Utility Commission of Texas have petitioned the Commission to revoke the retail electric provider certificate of Proton Energy, Inc.

Staff alleged that, "Staff determined that Proton has committed more than 1,000 violations of PURA and/or Commission substantive rules since 2011. Many of these violations are infringements upon core customer protections and are revocable offenses."

The violations alleged by Staff include:

Staff alleged that, on at least 407 occasions, Proton disconnected customers for non-payment of their bills without providing those customers proper notice pursuant to Commission rules. Staff alleged that at least 29 of these attempted disconnects were initiated by Proton (and rejected by the TDSP) during extreme weather events, in further violation of Commission rules.

Staff alleged that, on at least 288 occasions, Proton improperly placed switch-holds on customer accounts. Staff alleged that, in one TDSP territory, customers on an improper switch-hold remained on that switch-hold for an average of 317 days. Staff alleged that, in the other TDSP territory served by Proton, customers with improperly applied switch-holds spent an average of 213 days on a switch-hold.

More specifically with respect to the switch-hold issue, Staff alleged that Proton is in violation of P.U.C. SUBST. R. 25.480(j)(1) for imposing deferred payment plans on customers without the customer agreeing to the plan. P.U.C. SUBST. R. 25.480(j)(1) states that a deferred payment plan is an agreement between the REP and a customer that allows a customer to pay an outstanding balance in installments that extend beyond the due date of the current bill. The presence of an agreed-to deferred payment plan is one of the permissible situations under which a REP is allowed to impose a switch-hold on the account, subject to various rules.

Staff alleged that Proton is in violation of P.U.C. SUBST. R. 25.480(l)(1), the switch-hold rule, by placing at least 288 switch-holds on customer accounts without properly establishing a level or average payment plan pursuant to P.U.C. SUBST. R. 25.480(h) or a deferred payment plan pursuant to P.U.C. SUBST. R. 25.480(j).

Staff alleged that, on at least one occasion, Proton failed to provide a discount to a customer entitled to such discounts under the Commission's LITE-UP TEXAS assistance program.

Staff alleged that, "Proton has also shown a reckless indifference in response to communications directly from the Commission." The Commission's Customer Protection Division (CPD) is responsible for investigating customer complaints against REPs. If a customer files a complaint against a REP, the REP must respond to CPD with certain information pertaining to the complaint. Staff alleged that in approximately 15% of complaints investigated by CPD, Proton failed to respond to inquiries from CPD. In another approximately 9% of complaints investigated by CPD, Staff alleged that Proton provided a late response to CPD. Thus, in nearly a quarter of all complaints against Proton, Staff alleged that Proton either failed to respond to CPD altogether or responded after the deadline provided in the Commission's substantive rules.

Staff alleged that Proton also, "provided false or misleading information in response to Requests for Information by the Commission's Oversight & Enforcement Division during its investigation of Proton's use of switch-holds."

Staff alleged that, "Proton's violations outlined above are among the most egregious violations that a REP can commit and demonstrate an utter disregard for compliance with PURA and the Commission's substantive rules. These violations pose serious risks to the health, safety, and economic welfare of the public."

Staff alleged that, "Proton also committed violations of numerous other commission rules designed to protect customers and to allow the commission to monitor compliance with P.U.C. SUBST. R. 25.107, related to certification of REPs."

Among these other alleged violations is that Staff alleged that Proton charged 200 customers a fee to enroll with the REP ranging from $75 to $100, allegedly in violation of P.U.C. SUBST. R. 25.474(n), which forbids a REP from charging a fee to an applicant to switch to, select, or enroll with the REP unless an applicant without a Provisioned Advanced Meter requests an out-of-cycle meter read for the purpose of a self-selected switch. These allegedly improperly charged enrollment fees totaled $16,475.

"The Commission should revoke the REP certificate of Proton because Proton committed significant violations of PURA and Commission rules," Staff said.

In a separate Notice of Violation, Staff is seeking administrative penalties against Proton totaling nearly $2.2 million.

Proton may request a hearing on Staff's petition.

Dockets 41848 & 41849

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