When CUB helped pass historic consumer protections against alternative supplier rip-offs, the watchdog made it clear that the hard work was just beginning.
“We look forward to working with the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) and Attorney General (Kwame) Raoul to help enforce these new rules and build a better market for Illinois consumers,” CUB said in a statement marking the passage of the Home Energy Affordability and Transparency (HEAT) Act on May 31, 2019.
Now the ICC has set up a special team to focus on enforcing marketing rules to rein in alternative suppliers and make them more transparent. And CUB is working alongside regulators and advocates on several cases involving suppliers accused of misleading marketing and other violations of consumer protections. Here’s a rundown, topped off with some good news about a supplier giving a refund:
Great American Power
Great American Power was accused of multiple marketing violations. The company reached a settlement with consumer advocates, including CUB, and it was approved and filed by the ICC on June 24th. That settlement totals $325,000, of which $200,000 will go back to the company’s customers and $125,000 to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP.
As part of the compliance plan, Great American Power cannot (1) engage in sales, soliciting of sales, or marketing of any kind for energy offers in Illinois or (2) solicit enrollment of or enroll any new customers or reenroll any existing customers for a 5-year “stand-down period.” Before it can re-enter the market, the company must submit a reengagement plan to ICC Staff at least four months before it launches a new marketing campaign in Illinois. The plan must include all marketing materials and scripts, and outline the appointment of a compliance officer and development of a code of ethics. (Read our WatchBlog article about the case.)
CleanChoice Energy Complaint
In May 2020, the Environmental Law & Policy Center filed a complaint against CleanChoice Energy, an alternative electric supplier that markets renewable energy plans, alleging that CleanChoice’s marketing materials are confusing and misleading. CleanChoice filed to dismiss the case (CUB has supported ELPC in its case), and the ICC administrative law judge found that the allegations lacked sufficient detail, so ELPC was allowed to file an amended complaint. CleanChoice filed a second motion to dismiss, and ELPC and CUB are awaiting a ruling.
Liberty Power Holdings, Inc.
In April, the ICC initiated a citation proceeding against Liberty for, among other things, misleading marketing of its renewable energy plans and call center violations. However, Liberty recently filed for bankruptcy, and is arguing that the case cannot proceed because the bankruptcy code requires an automatic stay of all proceedings against it. This legal issue must be resolved before the case can proceed. Liberty is refusing to stop its active marketing in the meantime, and the ICC may have to hold a hearing to force them to stop.
In April, the ICC initiated a citation proceeding against Switch, a retail electric supplier, for misleading marketing and other violations relating to its call center. As of this writing, CUB’s legal team was preparing for a status hearing to set a schedule for testimony.
In April, the ICC initiated a citation proceeding against RealGY, a retail supplier, for charging customers extremely high fees they claim are “settlement charges” that relate to the bitter cold and price spikes that hit the energy markets in February. RealGY was improperly passing along costs charged to them by Nicor when the utility called a “critical load day” and issued penalties to entities like RealGY that could not supply the requisite gas. The ICC has directed RealGY to immediately suspend efforts to bill and collect any amounts related to these settlement chaerges, and RealGY subsequently began refunding the amounts already collected to the customers that paid them.
National Gas & Electric
As of this writing, CUB and other advocates had reached a settlement in a citation proceeding accusing the company of marketing violations. The parties were working on a compliance plan.
Star Energy Partners, LLC Citation Proceeding
The parties in the case accusing Star of marketing violations, including CUB, are working on a settlement.