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Illinois investigating Major Energy for alleged power marketer abuse

By: Bob Matyi |

In two separate inquiries, Illinois regulators are investigating allegations of misrepresentation and deceptive marketing practices in the state’s competitive retail electricity market.

On Wednesday, the Illinois Commerce Commission launched a formal investigation into Major Energy Electric Services, an Orangeburg, New York-based competitive supplier that is among more than 50 companies licensed by the ICC as an alternative retail electric service, or ARES, provider.

On a broader scale, the commission also is looking into claims raised earlier this summer by the Citizens Utility Board and city of Chicago about alleged unscrupulous practices by some unidentified suppliers.

“We have had a serious increase in the number of complaints this year already,” ICC spokeswoman Beth Bosch said Thursday.

The ICC’s Consumers Services Division staff and Office of Retail Market Development recommended the inquiry into Major Energy after the CSD received 111 complaints against the company from January through July of this year.

A CSD staff report indicates potential violations include misrepresentation/deceptive sales script language, exploitation of language barriers, non-disclosure of required door-to-door solicitation disclosure statements, and failure to adhere to required minimum contract terms and conditions.

Many of the complaints were from “Spanish speakers not given [required] information,” Bosch said.

Depending on the results of the probe, the ICC has the authority to strip a supplier of its ARES certificate and/or impose fines up to $30,000 a day.

CUB, a Chicago-based consumer watchdog agency, hailed the ICC’s decision.

“Many consumers want to have the freedom to choose their own power supplier, but nobody wants to be misled,” CUB executive director David Kolata said. “The ICC has taken a step toward building a better electric market in Illinois and protecting customers from bad marketing and bad deals.”

Mark Berger, a Major Energy spokesman, said his company plans to “fully cooperate” with the investigation.

“We maintain that any increase in rates our customers have experienced were a result of the volatile energy market and a direct result of real market costs,” he said. “We have and continue to constantly reach out to our customers regarding fixed rates and price protection plans but ultimately the customer makes the decision.”

Major Energy operates in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Massachusetts, as well as Illinois, Berger said. He declined to disclose how many customers Major Energy has.

It is unclear when the ICC will complete its inquiries, Bosch said.