PUC Approves Settlement With Retail Supplier
June 13, 2019 Email This Story Copyright 2010-19 EnergyChoiceMatters.com
Reporting by Paul Ring • email@example.com
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The Pennsylvania PUC approved without modification a previously reported settlement with Astral Energy, LLC
As first exclusively reported by EnergyChoiceMatters.com, Astral Energy, LLC had entered into a settlement agreement with the Pennsylvania PUC's Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement (I&E) under which Astral is to pay a civil penalty of $6,000 to resolve allegations of slamming arising from the erroneous transfer of 6 customer account numbers, by a third-party vendor, to the utility's "live" system for enrollment (as opposed to an EDI testing environment). The 6 customer account numbers, which were for active customers, had been previously provided by the utility for EDI testing purposes
Astral does not admit to any alleged violation under the settlement
According to the settlement, "On or about November 16, 2015, FirstEnergy [EDCs] informed the Commission’s Office of Competitive Market Oversight ('OCMO') that it had received several calls to its call center from customers who complained that their EGS was switched by Astral without proper authorization in October 2015."
According to the settlement, when the FirstEnergy EDCs (hereafter, "FirstEnergy") alerted Astral of the issue, Astral voluntarily investigated the enrollments in question and found that its third-party vendors had mistakenly enrolled six customers, whose actual account numbers had been provided to Astral by FirstEnergy for electronic data interchange (EDI) testing purposes.
According to the settlement, "In the Summer of 2015, FirstEnergy conducted EDI testing with Astral’s third-party vendors. Before engaging in EDI testing, FirstEnergy provided Astral with an EDI test plan that set forth different test scenarios for customer enrollment."
According to the settlement, "Along with the test plan, FirstEnergy also provided Astral with seven account numbers to be utilized during EDI testing (hereinafter referred to as 'test account numbers'). Out of the seven test account numbers, six were active, customer account numbers and one was fictitious and inactive."
According to the settlement, "Neither Astral nor its third-party vendors were notified that some of the test account numbers were actual, customer accounts numbers and FirstEnergy does not have any record of notifying Astral or its third-party vendors that some of the test account numbers were associated with active customer accounts."
According to the settlement, "During testing, Astral’s third-party vendors utilized the test account numbers to complete the customer enrollment test scenarios with FirstEnergy, which included creating and sending enrollment requests, rejecting enrollment requests, dropping enrollment requests, rescinding drop requests, and reinstating enrollments."
According to the settlement, "Each type of request was sent by Astral’s third-party vendors to FirstEnergy’s test environment only (as compared to FirstEnergy’s live system)."
According to the settlement, "On August 24, 2015, Astral successfully completed all EDI testing scenarios with FirstEnergy and Astral’s production connectivity, which provided the Company with the ability to enroll customers, was subsequently established on September 1, 2015."
According to the settlement, "On October 22, 2015, Astral’s third-party vendors mistakenly submitted the seven test account numbers for enrollment to FirstEnergy’s live system. That same day, six of the seven test accounts were enrolled with Astral."
According to the settlement, "Once Astral became aware of the mistaken enrollments, it took immediate corrective action. By October 29, 2015, the Company had dropped the enrollments for each affected account. Astral and its third-party vendors also conducted a system-wide audit to ensure that no other accounts had been accidentally enrolled. It was further determined by Astral that the six affected accounts were all non-residential accounts. No customers were charged for electric generation supply service as a result of these unauthorized enrollments."
The settlement notes that, at the time this matter was referred to I&E, no additional unauthorized enrollment complaints had been received by the PUC's consumer services bureau. Moreover, the settlement notes that this was the first informal complaint and compliance issue with Astral.
The settlement notes that, had the issue been litigated, I&E was prepared to allege that the action of Astral or agents of the company initiated the process of switching the electric generation supplier on six accounts without the authorization of the customers. If proven, this would be a violation of the Electricity Generation Customer Choice and Competition Act at 52 Pa. Code §§ 54.42(a)(9) and 54.43(f) and the Standards for Changing a Customer’s Electricity Generation Supplier at 52 Pa. Code §§ 57.171-179.
The settlement notes that, had the issue been litigated, I&E was prepared to allege that Astral failed to furnish and maintain adequate, efficient, safe and reasonable service and facilities in the provision of service as an electric generation supplier in that Astral or agents of the company failed to comply with the Electricity Generation Customer Choice and Competition Act at 52 Pa. Code §§ 54.42(a)(9) and 54.43(f) and the Standards for Changing a Customer’s Electricity Generation Supplier at 52 Pa. Code §§ 57.171-177.
The settlement notes that, had the issue been litigated, Astral would have contended that during the time period at issue, Astral was not operating or marketing electric generation supply service to any customer in Pennsylvania. Further, Astral would have contended that Astral never acquired the test account numbers on its own as the test account numbers were provided to Astral from FirstEnergy for testing purposes and Astral had no reason to believe that the test account numbers were associated with active accounts.
The settlement notes that Astral has taken several corrective actions and implemented revisions to its operating procedures which will act as safeguards against the transmission of erroneous or otherwise improper EGS enrollment data to the EDC.
At the time the settlement was entered into in June, Astral Energy had provided the following statement to EnergyChoiceMatters.com:
"Astral Energy was in EDI testing with First Energy Utilities, First Energy provided Astral with specific 'testing' account numbers. Astral treated these account numbers as such. First Energy did not make Astral aware that they use active customer account numbers for testing. Astral, and or its vendors, have never encountered a utility that uses actual live account numbers for testing purposes. Astral believes that it is highly irregular for any utility to release customer account data with total disregard for customer privacy.
"Astral has strict compliance standards and abides by all rules and regulations for marketing and enrolling customers set forth by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.
"Astral was not made aware of any regulatory action taken against First Energy for knowingly releasing actual active customer data."
Astral further said in June that it would like to go on record that although a settlement has been reached, this should not be misconstrued as an acknowledgment of wrongdoing on behalf of Astral Energy.
Jason K Fox, President & CEO of Astral Energy LLC, issued a further statement concerning the matter, as follows: "The real question is why can’t a major utility admit their mistake and take responsibility, instead an independent retail energy supplier has to settle with the state of Pa for enrollment of unauthorized accounts which were provided to Astral’s EDI company for connectivity purposes only, Astral never supplied energy to the accounts in question, this is a travesty of justice and is indicative of the times we live in! Sad state of affairs, Astral has clearly been wronged yet we are forced to defend ourselves and pay a fine as well! Maybe the share holders of First Energy should hold their management responsible for the company’s errors!"