Utility companies that use deceptive practices to entice customers into signing contracts that raise their energy costs have no business operating in Ohio.
That's the message the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio should send to Just Energy, a natural-gas supplier with a shady reputation in several states and Canada.
PUCO began holding hearings this week to decide whether Just Energy, formerly known as U.S. Energy Savings, can continue to operate here. The Canadian company, the Columbus Dispatch reports, is well known to utility regulators.
In 2008, Just Energy had to pay a six-figure penalty and change its sales practices after hundreds of customers complained to New York officials.
Last year, the company was required to repay Illinois customers $1 million and allow hundreds to break their contracts after people complained that they had been duped by savings claims that never materialized. The Citizens Utility Board of Illinois, which represents the interests of residential utility customers, said Just Energy's rate plans averaged $1,325 more expensive than what the typical customer paid for usage.
Customers elsewhere have complained that Just Energy salespeople dress like local gas company workers, leading to confusion about what company they were contracting with.
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission is allowing Just Energy to do business, but only on a probationary basis under strict conditions. In Ontario, where the natural-gas company is based, officials passed a law targeting the sales practices employed by Just Energy and some of its competitors.
Complaints in Ohio led the PUCO to issue a report this year that said Just Energy's salespeople displayed a “consistent pattern of behavior … that involved a substantial and ongoing harm to Ohio consumers.”
In the face of such widespread and consistent problems, it's difficult to credit Just Energy's claim that it loves its customers and is working hard to address their concerns.
Ohioans hard hit by the painfully slow economic recovery are going to have a hard enough time staying warm this winter. They shouldn't have to worry about energy abuses as well.
Denying Just Energy the right to do business here will send a strong message to all natural-gas suppliers that the state will not tolerate strong-arm or deceptive business practices that injure Ohio residents.