Thursday, February 11, 2016

PUC Seeks Comments On PA Gas & Electric Deceptive Marketing, Billing Practices During Polar Vortex

The Public Utility Commission Thursday adopted a joint motion modifying a settlement agreement and seeking comments on proposed penalties against Pennsylvania Gas & Electric (PaG&E) for deceptive actions following the “Polar Vortex” in the winter of 2013-14.
The settlement agreement directs PaG&E to issue a total of $6.8 million in customer refunds, pay a $25,000 civil penalty, contribute $100,000 to electric distribution companies’ (EDCs’) Hardship Funds and modify its marketing practices.
The Commission voted 5-0 to approve the joint motion by Commissioners John F. Coleman Jr. and Robert F. Powelson to modify the Initial Decision approving a Joint Petition for Settlement between PaG&E, the Office of Attorney General, the Office of Consumer Advocate and the Commission’s independent Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement and to seek public comment.
The joint motion, in addition to other clarifications, modifies the settlement obligations of OAG and OCA by requiring them to provide a specific notice to customers who elect to receive payment from the refund pool.
OAG and OCA filed a joint formal complaint against PaG&E on June 20, 2014, which alleged that the company misled customers with deceptive promises of savings; engaged in “slamming,” or the unauthorized enrollment of a customer; mishandled customer complaints; failed to provide accurate pricing information; charged different prices than listed in customer disclosure statements; and failed to comply with the Telemarketer Registration Act.
The settlement directs the following actions by the company:
-- Provide refunds to customers, honoring all commitments to rebate programs, guaranteed introductory rates, service agreements for repair and maintenance and incentive offers;
-- Pay a $25,000 civil penalty;
-- Contribute $100,000 to EDCs’ Hardship Funds; and
-- Make numerous modifications to its business practices related to product offerings, marketing, third-party verifications, disclosure statements, training, compliance monitoring, reporting and customer service.
The total refund pool amounts to $6,836,563, including $4,511,563 that the company previously and voluntarily paid in cash refunds. The net refund pool effective with today’s approval is $2,325,000.
The Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection and OCA will determine which customers were affected by the company’s misconduct between January and March 2014 and determine refund amounts, accounting for usage, price charged and refund amounts already received directly from PaG&E.
BCP and OCA will utilize a third-party administrator to distribute the refunds. The administrator will use best efforts to distribute all refunds within 180 days of the Final Order.
Customers who do not receive – or are not satisfied with – the offer by BCP and OCA may contact PaG&E directly to request a refund. Consumers with questions about the settlement may contact BCP at 1-800-441-2555.
For more information on programs, initiatives and responsibilities of the PUC, visit the Public Utility Commission website.

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