Summit County township residents who did not want to participate in the county’s natural gas aggregation plan with Direct Energy should keep an eye out for mail that might indicate they have been switched to the plan.
A handful of residents who say they mailed an opt-out form to Direct Energy or phoned the company last month have received confirmation letters from Dominion notifying them of their pending change to Direct Energy.
The scope of the problem is unknown, because customers would not know they are being switched against their will until they receive the confirmation letter from Dominion.
Direct Energy spokeswoman Bethany Ruhe said the problem seemed to be limited to a small number of customers.
To add to the confusion, Dominion’s letter indicates that customers could call its 24-hour automated system to cancel the supplier change. By law, customers have seven business days from the date on the confirmation letter from the utility to cancel a pending supplier change without a penalty. But this weekend, that system was not working properly, Dominion spokesman Neil Durbin said.
This year’s Summit County aggregation program by Direct Energy has been riddled with errors.
In January, Direct Energy officials admitted a coding error accidentally sent 17,000 letters about the aggregation group to the wrong people, including people who are not township customers in Summit County. The letters caused confusion, irritation and frustration.
The company then sent out 3,400 letters to the intended residents in Summit County townships and the city of New Franklin, and a company spokeswoman assured the mistake would not happen again.
The Direct Energy deal through Summit County is a fixed rate of $5.39 per thousand cubic feet (mcf) for two years starting in February. Many customers decided to opt out of the deal because monthly variable prices are at record lows — currently $3.45/mcf for the Standard Choice Offer (SCO) through a randomly assigned supplier with Dominion East Ohio.
Customers who do not choose their own provider, or who have the SCO, are automatically included in aggregations unless they opt out.
However, a handful of customers have contacted the Beacon Journal and said they mailed in the opt-out forms and called Direct Energy to opt out and still received a confirmation letter from Dominion saying the utility had received notice they wanted to switch.
An Akron resident who lives near Bath Township also said she was informed she would be part of the aggregation and has since canceled. Direct Energy said that customer's information was incorrectly given to the company to be included in the aggregation.
Ruhe said the error seems to be in a lag in receiving the opt-out letters and processing them. As of Tuesday afternoon, Ruhe was unable to explain why one customer who had called Direct Energy to opt out still was included, but said the company was investigating.
Ruhe said that as of Monday, Direct Energy was up to date on all of its opt-out notices and the company would honor the opt-out letters that came after the Feb. 28 deadline.
Customers who receive the confirmation letter from Dominion and who want to cancel the change should call Dominion by the date indicated on the letter. Durbin apologized for Dominion's 24-hour voice-activated phone system not working last weekend and said the system would not be operational for the next few weeks. The letters should not have indicated that customers could cancel using the automated system, he said.
Customers should call Dominion between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. weekdays at 1-800-362-7557.
Ruhe, of Direct Energy, said the problems associated with the Summit County aggregation are not typical for the company.
“Our aggregations, 99.9 percent of the time the customers are very happy, and we’re hoping to get this Summit aggregation to that point as well,” she said. “It started off a little wonky, but we’re working hard to get it straightened out.”
Customers who want to check with Direct Energy about their opt-out status can call 1-866-760-6040.
Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or firstname.lastname@example.org.