A natural gas and electricity supplier has been banned from operating in the state for five years in response to allegations it had misleading and deceptive practices and in some cases charged customers quadruple the rates of others.
In a settlement approved by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio on Wednesday, Philadelphia-based PALMco Energy, which operates as Indra Energy in Ohio, agreed to several things:
• The company stopped enrolling new customers and will exit the Ohio marketplace on Feb. 14 for natural gas and March 8 for electricity. PALMco customers will not lose any service and will be returned back to their local regulated utility, such as Dominion Energy or Columbia Gas.
• PALMco has automatically credited customers who enrolled between Dec. 1, 2018 and April 15, 2019 with approximately $385,000. The company adjusted customers’ rates in the affected time period to their utility company’s Standard Choice Offer (SCO) rate. In its order, the Commission also noted PALMco agreed to continue to credit customers who contact the PUCO Call Center (800-686-7826), including customers outside the affected time period.
• PALMco’s current owners, officers or partners are barred from doing business in Ohio’s retail energy markets for five years.
During the time frame in question, the PUCO said it received 373 complaints about high billing, misleading and deceptive practices, and enrollment disputes.
PALMco would tell consumers it was committed to provide customers with “competitive” and “the best” rates, but the company would charge consumers quadruple the rate customers could get from other competitors or staying with the SCO through the regulated utility.
The state launched an investigation against PALMco in April 2019.
In a news release, PUCO Chairman Sam Randazzo said “mitigating the damage that PALMco’s greed imposed on customers and ending PALMco’s opportunity to abuse the privilege of doing business in Ohio are positive outcomes in this case. Allegations of potential bad behavior from retail energy companies can erode the public’s trust in the marketplace, and warrant a prompt and thorough investigation.”
“PALMco should be forever banned from the state, never again to prey on Ohioans,” said Merrilee Embs, spokesperson for Ohio Consumers’ Counsel Bruce Weston. “Given that PALMco claims the PUCO lacks authority over a marketer’s charges to consumers, no matter how high the charge, legislation is needed for consumer protection.”
Michael D’Angelo, regulatory and corporate counsel for Indra Energy provided the following statement:
“We are pleased the PUCO approved today the settlement agreement we negotiated in good faith with Staff. While we are disappointed to be leaving the Ohio market, we pledge a smooth, customer-focused exit from the state… On or around February 14, our remaining natural gas customers will be automatically returned to utility service (Standard Choice Offer or Gas Cost Rate, depending on the utility). On or around March 8, our remaining electricity customers will be similarly and automatically returned to utility electricity service.”
A separate investigation regarding PALMco’s compliance with PUCO regulations from August to December 2019, which garnered another 50 complaints, remains an ongoing case.