OCC Goes After Troubled Marketer

Almost a month and a half after being kicked out of Columbia Gas of Ohio's Customer Choice program for failure to deliver gas to its customers in August, Ohio marketer Energy Max has found itself at the epicenter of a complaint lodged by the Ohio Consumers Council (OCC) in the interests of the marketer's customers.

The council said after an investigation and unsuccessful attempts to negotiate with Energy Max on behalf of its 8,000 Northeast Ohio customers, it has requested the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) to find that Energy Max acted inappropriately and in violation of Ohio Law by failing to deliver gas to its customers (see NGI, Sept. 11). Energy Max said it got caught up in this summer's price spike, and simply ran out of cash.

"We would like to get the commission to give us an affirmative ruling that Energy Max has broken the rules, which will give us an advantage if we go to civil court to seek damages," said OCC spokeswoman Maureen Miller. "In the end we are trying to put money back in peoples' pockets."

Energy Max's customers had fixed rate contracts between $0.315 per ccf and $0.465 per ccf. When Energy Max failed to deliver, Columbia Gas was forced to become supplier of last resort and impose its $0.624 per ccf on Energy Max's old customers. Even though these customers still have the choice to sign up with another marketer, if they are still with Columbia Gas they are subject to the current regulated price of $0.738 per ccf .

"We will do everything within our power to see that each and every customer receives the compensation they deserve," said Robert S. Tongren, Ohio Consumers' Counsel. "It is an insult to the success of the Customer CHOICEr program, and a violation of the suppliers code of conduct, to fail to provide reliable service and gas delivery to all participating residential consumers."

The OCC said it will continue to monitor all of Ohio's natural gas choice programs to protect the over 3 million natural gas customers in the state.

Alex Steis

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