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Illinois electric regulator reaches settlement with company accused of misleading customers

By: Cynthia Dizikes |

The agency that oversees electric suppliers in Illinois has reached a settlement with a New York company accused of lying to customers about potential electricity savings and taking advantage of those who did not speak English.

The settlement calls for Major Energy Electric Services to create a $262,500 fund for customer refunds and requires that sales offers made to Spanish-speaking customers be made in Spanish and accompanied with documentation in Spanish. The company has also agreed to record and retain telemarketing calls, according to the Illinois Commerce Commission.

“The Commission was very concerned with the allegations in this case and is pleased to have a resolution that provides additional protections for consumers,” Commission Chairman Brien Sheahan said in a news release.

After receiving more than a hundred consumer complaints, the commission opened an investigation into Major Energy in August 2014 to determine whether the company had violated the state’s Public Utilities Act. If such violations were found to have occurred, the commission could have revoked Major Energy’s license to operate in Illinois and fined the company up to $10,000 per violation.

Representatives for Major Energy could not immediately be reached. A lawyer representing the company declined to comment.

Under the settlement, which the commission approved Wednesday, Major Energy admitted no fault, asserting that its intent “is and had always been to fully comply with all applicable laws and regulations,” according to commission documents.

Major Energy has agreed that within four weeks it will send customer notice letters of the refund opportunity to all people or entities in Illinois who were customers from 2012 through 2014.

Customers have 12 months to contact Major Energy, which has agreed to work with customers on an individual basis to determine a refund amount based on factors including whether communications were conducted in the customer’s native language. The company must then report details to the commission about its communication with costumers over refunds as well as any substantial dissatisfaction with refund offers.

Customers who do not agree with Major Energy’s determinations can file complaints with the commission’s consumer services division.

The settlement does not include details about whether Major Energy has any special obligations if the fund is depleted. If it is depleted, however, customers can still seek a refund through Major Energy or file a complaint with the commission, according to a commission spokeswoman.

The Citizens Utility Board consumer group, which intervened in the case, also agreed to the settlement. Asked whether it was appropriate for the company that was accused of misleading consumers to be determining who actually receives refunds and the amounts of those refunds, a board spokesman said that the settlement includes “extensive reporting of all refunds to (the Commission) staff.”

“We’ll keep our eyes and ears open for any complaints about how the refunds are handed out,” said spokesman Jim Chilsen. “Major Energy understands that it has to behave appropriately, and that consumer advocates are watching. So it’s in the company’s best interest to hand out the settlement refunds fairly.”