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PUC Issues Show Cause Order To Retail Supplier Over Alleged Marketing Practices

July 25, 2018

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Copyright 2010-17 EnergyChoiceMatters.com
Reporting by Paul Ring • ring@energychoicematters.com

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The Maine PUC issued a show cause order to Electricity Maine, LLC in which the PUC, "directs Electricity Maine, LLC (Electricity Maine) to show cause why it should not be found to have violated Maine statutes and Commission rules regarding its operations as a licensed competitive electricity provider (CEP) in Maine and be subject to appropriate sanctions."

In the PUC's order, the PUC stated, "Beginning in 2012, the Commission and utilities began to receive complaints regarding Electricity Maine's marketing activities. Initially, the complaints involved Electricity Maine's television and radio marketing claims regarding its pricing being lower than standard offer and the actual amount of such savings. More recently, the complaints have involved Electricity Maine's door-to-door marketing and misleading or fraudulent claims such as working on behalf of the utility and the need to view customers' bills."

In the PUC's order, the PUC repeated several previously reported issues from the company, from 2012 and 2013, concerning comparisons of Electricity Maine's rates to the Standard Offer, including allegations that Electricity Maine compared rates to soon-expiring and expired Standard Offer rates, with the PUC alleging that, during such time, Electricity Maine promoted offers by, "claiming a false aggregated saving amount for its customers that would occur during 2013."

In the PUC's order, the PUC further said that, since January 2018, "The Commission and Central Maine Power Company (CMP) received numerous complaints and inquiries regarding Electricity Maine's door-to-door marketing."

The PUC said that such complaints alleged behavior including, as summarized by the PUC:

• "Electricity Maine door-to-door marketers posing as representatives of CMP and claiming that rates are about to increase or are fluctuating and offering to lower or freeze customers' rates."

• "Electricity Maine door-to-door marketers claiming to be auditors working to correct CMP high bill problems, seeking to lower or freeze customers' rates pending the resolution of the billing investigation."

• "Electricity Maine door-to-door marketers claiming to be checking customer meters to ensure being billed properly in relation to CMP high bill problems."

• "Electricity Maine door-to-door marketers claiming that CMP's rates are about to increase and customers' can protect themselves by locking into a reduced rate with Electricity Maine."

The PUC said in its order to show cause that, "The Commission and CMP asked Electricity Maine to respond to each complaint. Specifically, on January 22, 2018, Commission Staff sent correspondence to Electricity Maine seeking specific information regarding its door-to-door marketing activities and potential violations of Commission rules. In its February 9, 2018 response, Electricity Maine stated, among other matters, that it has suspended door-to-door marketing operations in Maine pending further training and that it would notify CMP before reactivating its door-to-door marketing efforts. Beginning at the end of March, 2018, the Commission and CMP received several complaints regarding Electricity Maine's door-to-door marketing activities and the Commission Staff, through a letter dated May 1, 2018, requested further information from Electricity Maine. In its May 10, 2018 response, Electricity Maine indicated, among other things, that it resumed door-to-door marketing on February 28, 2018 (less than three weeks after it suspended marketing) and failed to inform CMP that it had reinstated door-to-door marketing. Subsequently, complaints have continued regarding Electricity Maine's deceptive door-to-door marketing activities."

The PUC stated in its order to show cause that, "As a general matter, Electricity Maine has not denied complaints that its sales agents acted in a misleading or deceptive manner in violation of Commission rules. Electricity Maine's response has consistently been that it would retrain or suspend offending sales agents."

The PUC stated in its order to show cause that, "Pursuant to Title 35-A, sections 3203(4), (4-A),(5),(6) and Chapter 305, Sections (3),(4) of the Commission's Rules, the Commission is authorized to suspend a CEP license for material noncompliance with Commission rules, which includes the use of fraudulent, coercive or deceptive practices. Thus, the Commission hereby directs Electricity Maine to show cause why its marketing practices should not be found to have violated Maine statutes and Commission rules regarding its operations as a licensed CEP in Maine. Specifically, the Commission directs Electricity Maine to show cause why its license as a CEP in Maine should not be suspended with respect to marketing to and enrolling new customers or from re-enrolling existing customers at the end of the customer's term of service."

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