The PUC (Public Utilities Commission) receives a lot of heat from Texans, oftentimes undeserved. One of the many responsibilities of the PUC is to act on behalf of Texans when it comes to making sure they aren’t being exploited by electricity companies.
Now, when electric rates go up because people don’t read their terms of service, people often get upset, cry foul, and blame the PUC. I see reviews like this submitted through Texas Electricity Ratings all the time. This is an example the kind of thing the PUC doesn’t oversee.
Over the weekend, there was a case of the kind of oversight and action which IS the responsibility of the PUC. Glacial Energy is an electricity and natural gas provider licensed in 15 states (plus Washington D.C.), and the PUC slapped them with a $235,000 fine over the weekend. Glacial seems to specialize in commercial electricity as opposed to residential electricity, per what I dug up on their website, but their violations involved residential customers. Specifically:
Glacial Energy, now based in the U.S. Virgin Islands but founded in Dallas, collected sales tax from residential customers even though rules exempt them from paying sales tax for electricity, according to the Texas Public Utility Commission.
“Glacial violated rules regarding customer pricing disclosures and overbilled its customers,” the PUC wrote in a notice of violation.
But that is not the only rule the PUC has accused Glacial of breaking. They also claim that Glacial supplied false and misleading information to the PUC when they first applied for their REP license in 2006. The PUC claims that Glacial CEO, Gary Mole, was the former owner of a failed REP called Franklin Power. The PUC has some serious restrictions on the principal parties of failed REP’s being able to start new ones, and by having Gary Mole as their CEO, much less failing to disclose it, the PUC believes Glacial Energy provided them with false and misleading information in 2006.
Additionally, just to add a touch of the truly bizarre to this story, Glacial Energy is the same company that was named as a money-laundering front for Blood Diamonds. It’s actually worth reading the entire article I linked just because it sounds like a plot from a movie.
Glacial claims to have made refunds to customers for the over-billing. However, the PUC will actively take a hand in helping customers recover funds from over-billing through an informal complaint process, and after working with the electric companies, refunds are given back either through a customer credit or a direct payment.
From September 1st through December 31st of 2011, the PUC has obtained refunds/credits for customers to the tune of $117,600 through their informal complaint process. And in the two years of 2009 and 2010, the PUC leveled more than 9.8 million in penalties to electric companies. Considering the PUC takes a lot of flack from customers, I though it would be important to point out an instance where they are excelling in protecting customers in matters of deregulated Texas electricity.