Apollo Gas Loses Alberta License, Wrangles With LDC
Independent gas marketer Apollo Gas says it will appeal the
Alberta government's decision to yank its license over consumer
complaints about the manner in which it solicited business. The
license was revoked effective April 1; however, the company has
been issued a two-month conditional license so it can supply gas to
existing customers until May 31. After that, Apollo may sell its
contracts "at the agreed-upon price" to another marketer or allow
each account to revert back to the customer's original utility.
Apollo came on the scene in September 1998, said Rob Phillips,
director of consumer programs for Alberta Government Services.
"Almost from day one we received a fairly high number of phone
calls and letters of complaint, and we worked closely with the
company." He said there were a high number of calls from customers
who said they were misled into signing Apollo contracts. Other
complainants said they thought they were dealing with the area
utility, Atco Gas, or they didn't realize savings with Apollo. The
complaints centered on the company's controversial door-to-door
marketing campaign, which was recently abandoned.
While an Alberta government news release says Apollo has 45,000
customers, Apollo President Gordon Jarvis says the number is more
like 30,000. The company was selling five-year, fixed-price
contracts, mainly to residentials in Alberta. It also has about
25,000 customers in Ontario, most of them commercial.
"We don't try to tell consumers whether these contracts are a
good deal or not... The consumer has to make that judgment call.
Our concern was that the representation that this was going to save
you money. Those are things that no one can guarantee because no
one knows what the price of gas is three, four or five years from
Jarvis, who joined Apollo in December, said he tried working
with the provincial government to improve but got little
cooperation. "Through this process the reports that we were getting
in our regular contacts with Government Services were that things
were a lot better. Up until last week, we were told there should be
no difficulty getting our license renewed." Jarvis said the company
has 30 days from the date of the decision to appeal the license
revocation, and a panel to review the case must be appointed within
30 days after that.
Although Jarvis sounds steadfast in his determination to appeal
the license revocation, the company faces trouble on another front.
Local distribution company Atco Gas has decided to stop providing
billing services to the marketer. Atco President Chris Sheard said
his company's apparent affiliation with Apollo resulted in
"hundreds rising to thousands per day" of calls to Atco's customer
assistance number. "And the phone calls coming into our call center
from our customers were clearly highlighting to us that customers
perceived us to be part of the problem. If we were allowing Apollo
to use our bills, then clearly we must be in cahoots with them."
Asked why his company is being set free to do its own billing,
Jarvis said he doesn't know. "The only thing that Atco will tell me
is that gas marketers went into the province and started giving
Atco a bad name. Therefore, they don't want to be associated with
them. Their name is very important to them, and that's it, 'go
away.'" At one time Atco had a marketing affiliate but has since
shut it down.
Apollo is working with Atco to gather the information it needs
to set up its own billing system. However, if it is successful in
regaining its license, any billing system likely will only remain
in place until next year when electric deregulation takes hold in
Alberta. The province's electric legislation specifies that
marketers are responsible for billing for commodity and
transportation, and the same rules are likely to apply to gas.
That's about the only thing Jarvis and Sheard agree on.
Joe Fisher, Houston