The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio has opened an investigation into a natural gas marketer’s multiple billing glitches over the past year.
The Beacon Journal reported on several problems that involve Direct Energy, owned by a company in the United Kingdom with North American headquarters in Houston.
• A mistake blamed on a computer glitch inexplicably linked two accounts in different counties with overcharges.
• The company discovered during that investigation that 372 accounts were inadvertently switched last March into the Summit County government aggregation, or natural-gas-buying group. Customers will be contacted and given refunds and offered a cheaper rate.
• In January, a computer glitch was also said to be blamed for 443 Tallmadge aggregation customers who wanted to switch to the city’s aggregation not properly being switched.
• A possible pattern of customer billing complaints of not being switched to the proper rate.
• In January 2012, a coding error was said to be blamed for sending 17,000 letters about the Summit County aggregation to the wrong customers. The letters were intended for 3,400 township residents in Summit County only, but erroneous letters were sent to Summit County and in some cases, Medina County.
• The company then had problems with an overflowing post-office box for opt-out forms for that program.
On Thursday, PUCO spokesman Jason Gilham said the issues have resulted in an investigation.
“The PUCO has opened an investigation into these matters with Direct Energy. The commission takes these issues very serious and while our investigation will look to help resolve these matters for those affected customers, we also want to ensure that similar issues of this nature do not occur in the future,” he said.
Last week, PUCO Audit Chief Lisa Colosimo said while the Direct Energy problems had been large, it had not reached an issue of enforcement status.
In explaining the reason for the investigation, Gilham said simultaneous to the issues reviewed by Colosimo’s department, which oversees the call center, the PUCO’s Service Monitoring and Enforcement Department had been noticing a trend in Direct Energy’s issues.
Gilham said the investigation was based on complaints that have been chronicled in the Beacon Journal.
Direct Energy spokeswoman Bethany Ruhe said the company “has been asked to provide to PUCO staff a corrective action plan that identifies the underlying cause of the enrollment and billing problem, scope of those affected and a timeline for resolution. We are fully cooperating and will continue to do so. We remain committed to our customers by not only resolving these issues but also by ensuring that they will not happen again.”
Company officials were surprised by the news of the investigation since they had just met with PUCO officials Thursday afternoon and were not told of an investigation, Ruhe said.
Gilham said the word investigation may not have been used, but the company knew the PUCO was looking into its issues. Gilham said it was too early to say whether the investigation could result in fines or other action by the commission.